Nigeria delayed nationwide elections to give security forces a requested six more weeks to subdue Boko Haram in the northeast. Military gains announced since the delay have been punctuated by deadly bomb attacks and incursions by Boko Haram into neighboring countries.
Nigeria has about five weeks to go before March 28 nationwide elections, already postponed once for security reasons.
Boko Haram had seized control of large parts of the northeast and was threatening the Borno state capital Maiduguri.
National security spokesman Mike Omeri told VOA that at least 16 towns have now been retaken in the northeast.
“As a result of the heavy bombardments and offensive by the military, the insurgents are scattered,” he said.
The military said it retook the strategic town of Monguno and ten other communities since Monday.
The news comes as Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau renewed the sect’s pledge to disrupt elections. Boko Haram condemns democracy as usurping Allah’s authority and wants to create an Islamic state.
In a video released online Tuesday, Shekau said the elections “will not happen in peace, even if that costs us our lives.”
Suicide bombings have spiked this month in northeastern Nigeria. The towns of Damaturu and Biu were each hit twice in the past week killing at least 62 people, most of them civilians.
A female suicide bomber attacked a presidential campaign rally in the city of Gombe on February 2. Militants stormed that city on February 14. Nigerian troops pushed them back but not before insurgents distributed leaflets warning villagers not to vote.
In Tuesday's video, Shekau remained defiant in the face of the unprecedented regional intervention now squeezing Boko Haram along Nigeria's borders.
Chad, Cameroon and Niger have launched air and land operations against militants in Nigeria. Those countries are reporting hundreds of militants killed and alleged supporters arrested.
Boko Haram has hit back. Militants bombed a border town in Niger and have mounted several attacks against military installations and civilians in Cameroon. Boko Haram attacked inside Chad for the first time on February 13.
It's not clear which side has the upper hand. Analysts say the resurgence of asymmetrical attacks, like suicide bombings, shows just how hard it will be to secure the northeast ahead of the polls.
Chris Stein contributed to this report from Abuja.