HARUNA UMAR, Associated Press
LEKAN OYEKANMI, Associated Press
MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (AP) — Chad sent a warplane dropping bombs and ground troops to drive Islamic extremists from a Nigerian border town, leaving it strewn with the bodies of the Islamic extremists, witnesses said Friday.
Thursday’s bombing marked the first such action by foreign troops on Nigerian soil to fight the militants of Boko Haram.
To further help Nigeria battle its extremists, the African Union moved to send ground forces and the U.S. said it would assist.
Also Thursday, Boko Haram fighters made a second attack in a week on Maiduguri, the biggest city in Nigeria’s northeast. Soldiers fled when the insurgents began launching rockets just outside the city of 2 million but the militants were fought off by the civilian self-defense group armed with homemade hunting rifles, according to its spokesman, Muhammad Gava.
Abari Modu said he witnessed the Chadian offensive on Malumfatori town in Nigeria’s Borno state at an axis bordering Chad, Niger and Cameroon.
“We saw the fighter jet when it started shelling and bombarding the insurgents who were lodging mostly inside the local government secretariat and the district head’s palace,” he told The Associated Press.
He said the bodies of many Boko Haram fighters were still in the town Friday morning. Modu spoke by telephone after crossing the border from a Chadian village where he had sought refuge after Boko Haram seized Malumfatori at the end of October.
He said the Chadian jet pursued fleeing fighters to the border and that the bombardment was coordinated with Chadian ground troops, offering the fighters no escape.
A Nigerian military officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press, confirmed the account and said the operation was solely Chadian.
Nigeria’s Defense Ministry spokesman, Brig. Gen. Chris Olukolade, tweeted that Nigerian jet fighters participated in the offensive, but the witnesses disputed that.
Nigeria’s Aviation Minister Osita Chidoka said earlier this week that Nigeria is “collaborating closely with the Chadian government” and that “all sides continue to be engaged.”
Boko Haram’s 5-year Islamic uprising has displace more than 1 million people and killed about 10,000 people in the last year, according to the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations.
Nigeria’s intelligence service meanwhile warned it had information that Boko Haram is planning to use camels, donkeys, cows and goats to carry bombs. It warned people to be vigilant.
AU chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma called for the deployment of 7,500 troops to combat Boko Haram at a meeting with African leaders Thursday night in Addis Ababa. Nigeria and its neighbors Benin, Chad, Niger and Cameroon each have promised one battalion and the AU hopes for more pledges. The troops would be deployed as the Multinational Joint Task Force with a 12-month period of initial operation.
A senior U.S. official told reporters that the United States will help.
“We are prepared to provide technical support, training and equipment to fight the Boko Haram group,” said Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. assistant secretary of state for Africa.
The joint force will also be mandated to search for, and free, all abductees, including more than 200 girls and young women kidnapped in Chibok last year.
“We will never forget the girls kidnapped from Chibok last April, and I will never stop calling for their immediate and unconditional release,” said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, a guest at the summit.
“The Boko Haram insurgency poses a clear danger to national, regional and international security. This group continues to kill Christians and Muslims, kidnap women and children, and destroy churches and mosques,” he said.
Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan said Nigerian troops on Thursday recaptured several villages and the town of Michika in northeast Adamawa state.
People still fleeing villages around Michika disputed that claim, saying soldiers may have taken Michika town, or Boko Haram may have withdrawn, but that the insurgents still are running amok in a half dozen surrounding villages.
“I think it is just a political statement to woo our sympathy and canvass for votes,” said displaced community leader Emmanuel Kwachu.
Kainu Vandu, who was hiding in the hills with his three children, was adamant: “Let me tell you that there is no presence of soldiers in nearby villages where the boys are moving freely — places like Mayo Wandu, Mararraban Garta, Monday market, Mbororo, Garta, Kamale, Liddle and other villages.”
Jonathan, who is running in Feb. 14 elections, told a campaign rally Thursday in Yola, the Adamawa state capital, that “Michika local government was recaptured by our gallant forces today.”
Oyekanmi reported from Yola, Nigeria. Elias Meseret in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and Bashir Adigun in Abuja, Nigeria, contributed to this report.
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