Nigeria's Boko Haram extremist group has for the first time attacked a village in Chad, part of a widening insurgency that now has drawn in four countries.
Chadian officials said at least 12 people were killed during the early Friday violence in the village of Ngouboua, including the village chief. They said the militants crossed Lake Chad in four motorized boats early in the morning.
The militants set fire to parts of the village before being driven out by Chadian troops. Officials said the army could not follow the attackers because it lacked motorized boats, but that Chadian helicopters launched strikes over the lake, destroying the boats of the retreating militants.
The governor of Chad's Lake Region, Bayana Kossingar, said those killed in the fighting included two soldiers, five civilians and five militants.
Ngouboua is already home to more than 2,000 refugees who had fled Boko Haram violence in Nigeria. The head of the refugee camp in Ngouboua, Idriss Peve, said none of the refugees was harmed in Friday's attack.
Boko Haram, which has previously launched deadly attacks on towns in Cameroon and Niger, has terrorized northeast Nigeria for nearly six years. The violence, and the inability of Nigerian security forces to quell the insurgency, prompted election officials to postpone Saturday’s critical presidential election until March 28.
The United States strongly condemned Friday's attack in Chad.
"We offer our deepest condolences to the victims, their families and to those who have been displaced by these cruel acts, and we reiterate our support for these countries’ efforts to fight Boko Haram in a manner that respects human rights and the rule of law," said National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan.
The U.N. refugee agency, meanwhile, said several days of clashes between Boko Haram and soldiers from Niger and Chad had left the town of Diffa in southeastern Niger "virtually empty.”
Some 50,000 people lived in Diffa before the fighting broke out, agency spokesman Adrian Edwards said.
“Thousands of people have fled other towns and villages of the region. While most of the internally displaced are being hosted in local communities, there are serious shortages there of food and clean water,” Edwards said. “The situation is being exacerbated, as shops remain closed.”
The extremists have killed thousands of people since launching their insurgency in 2009 and control dozens of towns in northeastern Nigeria. More than 157,000 people have fled to neighboring countries, and almost 1 million have been displaced inside Nigeria, the U.N. agency said.
Underscoring its inability to fight Boko Haram, Nigeria recently agreed to set up an 8,700-troop regional force with Niger, Chad, Cameroon and Benin.
Cameroon announced it was sending more troops to the border village of Mabass after militants kidnapped 11 people there this week. Scores more have been abducted or killed in the last three weeks.
Yerrima Bouba, a resident of Mabass, told VOA that the attackers kidnapped seven young girls and four elderly women Thursday, stole cattle, and burned a local church and a mosque.
"They cannot defeat us because we are ready at any moment, any time, to defeat the Boko Haram,” said Elvis Madumbe, a soldier deployed to the border village. “We are waiting for them right now to see what they can do. We are prepared to fight Boko Haram.”
VOA’s Moki Edwin Kindzeka in Yaounde, Cameroon and Lisa Schlein in Geneva contributed to this report.