Dozens of militants were reportedly killed when Nigerian fighter jets on Thursday afternoon bombed a major Boko Haram base near Lake Chad, eyewitnesses have said.
“Air force fighter jets are currently hitting Wulgo village, which is on the banks of Lake Chad. The strategy is to flush them from the area,” a military officer privy to the operation told Anadolu Agency on condition of anonymity.
“The militants were found attacking nearby towns and settlements from Wulgo, where they have a fortress,” he said.
Saidu Batagarawa, a Fulani herdsman in the area, said the military had warned local residents ahead of the aerial operation.
“Boko Haram had long stationed themselves in Wulgo and other villages near Fotokol in neighboring Cameroon,” Batagarawa, who spoke in the local Fulfude dialect, told AA by phone.
“It appears to be their launch base, but the soldiers are now smoking them out,” he added.
Batagarawa suggested that up to 45 insurgents had been killed in the bombardments.
“They are trying to escape. We are aware that they have a tunnel through which they escape,” he said. “But we exposed this to the troops long ago.”
Militants are known to launch attacks from border communities and then escape through waterways in the area – a strategy that is now being thwarted by deepening regional cooperation between Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Niger.
Following a meeting in Nigerien capital Niamey on Tuesday, the leaders of Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Benin and Cameroon agreed to form a “joint force” to combat Boko Haram.
In May, the five countries agreed to deploy a joint force composed of some 700 troops as part of a wider strategy for combating the militant group.
Boko Haram, which means “Western education is forbidden” in Nigeria’s local Hausa language, first emerged in the early 2000s preaching against government misrule and corruption.
It later became violent, however, after the death of its leader in 2009 while in police custody.
In the five years since, the shadowy sect has been blamed for numerous attacks – on places of worship and government institutions – and thousands of deaths in Nigeria.
The group has also been blamed for several earlier cross-border attacks in Cameroon.