Around 2,000 people have been forced to flee to the northeastern Nigerian city of Maiduguri ahead of a major offensive against the Islamic State West Africa province faction of Boko Haram, emergency services and residents told AFP on Tuesday, April 9.
AFP reported an unnamed military official in Maiduguri as saying the evacuation was in preparation for a “big operation” against ISWA.
A Nigerian Army spokesperson later confirmed that the relocations were related to intensive multi-nation operations against insurgents around Lake Chad further east.
Nigerian troops herded residents of Jakana village in Konduga local Government Area into trucks and ferried them 40 km (25 miles) to a displacement camp in the Borno state capital, a National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) spokesperson said.
#NEMA is profiling evacuated residents from Jakana town of konduga LGA by the military to Bakassi IDPs camp for their safety. Other humanitarian organizations join in mobilizing resources to cater for their basic needs after registration and profiling. pic.twitter.com/ZfEQhil3dW
— NEMA Nigeria (@nemanigeria) April 9, 2019
Jakana residents were taken to “Bakassi IDP [internally displaced persons] Camp by the military for their safety as a result of ongoing operations to flush out insurgents in the area,” said Abdulkadir Ibrahim.
Camp officials were “mobilizing resources” to care for their basic needs, he added.
The residents of Jakana said they were given no notice.
“The soldiers came this morning and told us to assemble and began herding us into trucks,” Modu Kaka said. “We left all our possessions in Jakana and we are now dependent on food aid.”
Bakassi is one of several camps in the city that house thousands of displaced people.
Jakana, on the Maiduguri to Damaturu Highway, lies on a known crossing route for ISWA fighters moving between their camps in the Benisheikh forest area of Borno and their hideouts in the Buni Yadi area of neighboring Yobe state.
“We know they are going to use their traditional route to escape,” the military source said.
Later on Tuesday, locals reported an attack in Damaturu.
“Boko Haram jihadists launched an attack on Damaturu at about 5:45 p.m., firing guns and throwing explosives,” Adamu Sani, a trader in the city’s Maisandari area, told AFP. “Residents and businesses all closed as we fled into the city to avoid being caught up in the attack. While fleeing into the city, I saw truckloads of soldiers heading to Maisandari.”
In January ISWA sent letters to residents of Jakana and nearby Mainok telling them to vacate their homes for an impending raid on the military.
Last week, ISIS claimed ISWA fighters on April 5 clashed with the Nigerian army in Jakana and Mainok killing and injuring an unspecified number and destroying six vehicles.
The jihadist group known as Boko Haram split into two factions in mid-2016. One led by long-time leader Shekau is notorious for suicide bombings and indiscriminate killings of civilians. Shekau pledged allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi in March 2015, but ISIS central only gives formal backing to the other faction, which it calls Islamic State West Africa province.
The ISWA faction, which largely focuses on attacking military and government targets, was led by Abu Mus’ab Al-Barnawi, but last month, audio recordings revealed that ISIS appointed Abu Abdullah Idris bin Umar, also known as Ibn Umar al-Barnawi, as leader. ISIS has not yet made a public statement confirming the change.
MNJTF’s Operation Yancin Tafki continues
ISWA has in the last few weeks been under assault from intensive air and ground offensives from coalition forces around Lake Chad.
The Multinational Joint Task Force, which comprises troops from Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria, launched Operation Yancin Tafki on February 21. MNJTF spokesperson Colonel Timothy Antigha has said it is aimed at “making islands and other settlements in Lake Chad untenable for Boko Haram Terrorists.”
Nigerian Army spokesperson Colonel Ado Isa said the relocation of residents from Jakana was related to the MNJTF operation, Channels TV reported.
He said that the army was blocking possible escape routes for insurgents fleeing the offensive further east, and villages including Jakana and Mainok had been identified as on those routes.
“We have to conduct clearance operations … and it is part of the military drill that whenever we want to conduct such operations after having a credible information on the activities of the Boko Haram Terrorists elements, we normally evacuate and relocate all the people within that community for the safety of their lives and property, so that we can get the latitude to go on with our military operations,” Ado said.
Actions have been conducted in Nigeria and Niger as part of the operation.
The Nigerian Air Force said strikes conducted as part of Operation Yancin Tafki and carried out on April 8 by an Alpha Jet had “degraded” an ISWA base and “neutralized some of their fighters” at Tumbun Zarami near Lake Chad. On April 2, the NAF said strikes “significantly degraded” an ISWA base at Magari.
A week earlier on March 31, the MNJTF said troops killed 16 Boko Haram fighters including a commander in the Kirenowa area.
On March 12, aircraft from Nigeria, Niger and Cameroon supported by MNJTF ground troops killed 33 ISWA militants around Tumbun Rego and Arege, the regional force said.
Across the border, seven Nigerien police and 38 militants were killed near Gueskerou in the Diffa region, Niger’s defense ministry said on March 9. The MNJTF said in a statement that “27 terrorists” were killed.
Boko Haram’s bloody insurgency began in northeastern Nigeria in 2009 but has since spread into neighboring Niger, Chad and Cameroon, prompting a regional military response. Some 27,000 people have been killed and two million others displaced, sparking a dire humanitarian crisis in the region.
With reporting from AFP. This post was updated on April 9.