The Nigerian Army yesterday said it has finally won the six-year-old war against Boko Haram insurgents in the Northeast.
The Theatre Commander of Operation Lafiya Dole Major General Leo Irabor declared this victory in Maiduguri in a press conference on Operation Rescue Final.
The military said it has captured the Sambisa forest, the last stronghold of the insurgents, killed and arrested dozens of them and rescued hundreds of civilians.
Irabor showed footage of military attacking Boko Haram locations, with air force Alpha jets giving them air support.
The aerial footage showed the insurgents fleeing their base on motorcycles and in some vehicles, but the theatre commander said the fighter jets avoided attacking them from the air because there were women and children among them.
He added however that the military was on their trail and that they would not escape.
Irabor said the military used minimal force and avoided bombarding locations with women and children in order to rescue them.
The insurgency began in 2009 during the administration of late President Umaru Musa Yarádua but escalated under former President Goodluck Jonathan. The military had been bogged down in the counter insurgency war in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states.
The Boko Haram insurgents took over 20,000sq kilometres of territory the three states at the height of the war.
Irabo said as a mark that the war has been won, two roads linking major towns in Borno state that were closed down for three years have been reopened. The roads are; Maiduguri-Gubio-Damasak road and the Maiduguri-Mungono-Baga road. Other major roads were opened several months ago.
Major General Irabo said troops recovered a Qur’an and flag belonging to Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau during the operation to capture Sambisa.
He disclosed that Shekau is on the run like many other leaders and members of the sect.
He said: “We believe that the Holy Book and the flag were abandoned by Abubakar Shekau while he escaped.
“The Book will be taken to the Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Tukur Burutai, for onward presentation to Mr President.
“We have also made a lot of arrests. Our troops in Damboa arrested about 15 Boko Haram members. We also arrested one Musa from Potiskum on Christmas day which was Dec.25.
“On Dec. 26 our troops also intercepted two Boko Haram suspects in Maiduguri.
“We, therefore, warn residents of the state to be wary of people coming to hide in and around their houses.
“We are also warning residents to report any suspected Boko Haram members hiding in their houses to the relevant security agencies and any failure to do that would tantamount to supporting and sympathising with the sect’s activities.”
He said about 1,240 suspected Boko Haram members have been arrested by troops during mop-up operation inside the Sambisa forest.
Irabor said 413 of the suspects were adults; 323 were female adults; 251 male children, while 253 were female children.
He said: “We are interrogating them to know whether they are Boko Haram members, because there is no way somebody that is not their member would live inside Sambisa forest.
“We are still on the trail of the terrorists and I want to assure you that all escape routes have been blocked.
“Within this period, also, about 30 fleeing suspected Boko Haram members have surrendered to the Niger Multinational Troops on the shores of the Lake Chad and we learnt that they were taken to Difa in the Niger Republic.
“The suspects include; 24 male and 6 females.
“We would like to use this opportunity to encourage the terrorists to give up the fight because the window is still open,” the Theatre Commander said.
The commander said the army will hold the 2017 Small Arms (NASA) championship in Sambisa to enhance its presence in the forest.
Irabor said other exercises such as military training and test of arms and equipment would also be conducted in the forest in order “to completely dominate the area’’.
“We would continue with our road construction in the area. As you can see, our troops are already providing motorable roads in the forest.
“The military are going to do a lot of things as part of its post-insurgency contribution to bring total normalcy and security to the North-East.
“Our troops have helped in mobilising the local people to facilitate the return of IDPs to Kala balge. But then, there is no access road to the town.
“For them to return, the road must be constructed. And that is why we are calling on well-meaning Nigerians to also contribute their quota and support the government.
“Other stakeholders are also expected to repair the roads,” Irabor said.
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