ABUJA, NIGERIA — Nearly a week after Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan announced the deployment of thousands of troops to the country’s war-torn north, officials say they now hold more than 200 suspected Boko Haram militants.
Nigerian military forces said Monday they have captured 120 Boko Haram militants during the past 24 hours alone, and now are occupying five former militant bases and the surrounding areas.
In a statement sent to reporters, Defense Ministry spokesperson Brigadier General Chris Olukolade also denied rumors that people in the three states under emergency rule - Borno, Adamawa and Yobe - are fleeing to neighboring countries.
There has been no word from the militants themselves since the Nigerian offensive began last Wednesday, and VOA is unable to independently verify the government's claims, due to blocked roads and the fact that phone lines largely are shut down.
Despite what the military says is a rapid takeover of territories once held by Boko Haram, security experts say the insurgency, already nearly four years old, will not be quelled easily.
Security consultant and retired Nigerian Army Captain Umar Aliyu said to defeat Boko Haram, Nigeria’s armed forces need better intelligence and a plan to help alleviate poverty. Boko Haram has an ideology, he said, but their real strength is masses of impoverished, uneducated young people with nothing else to do and few other ways to make money than to take up arms.
“This situation calls for understanding. Understanding on the part of everybody. The army, the civil populace, the government and also members of the international community,” he said.
Aliyu also warned that the military needs to gain the trust of the population in order to gather intelligence that could prevent Boko Haram members from going underground during the offensive.
Both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have previously accused Nigerian military forces of human rights abuses, including shooting suspects and burning down homes, as they tried to stamp out militant violence.
Human Rights Watch says 3,600 people have died in the past four years in violence related to Boko Haram, including hundreds killed by security forces.