The militaries of Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria have hailed the success of a joint security operation they say has freed 4,500 civilians and killed more than 800 militants since late March.
The Multinational Joint Task Force agreed to extend Operation Lake Sanity during a meeting Thursday in the Cameroonian town of Mora, on the border with Chad and Nigeria. The task force commander, Nigerian Major General Abdul Kalifa Ibrahim, declared Operation Lake Sanity a success.
Ibrahim said 3,000 troops from the participating nations launched the operation in late March to clear the Lake Chad basin of Islamist insurgents.
Speaking on Cameroon’s state broadcaster, CRTV, he said the task force had destroyed scores of houses and vehicles used by Boko Haram militants.
"We have cleared a lot of settlements" that Boko Haram had used before, including on islands in Lake Chad, "and so far over 800 of the Boko Haram criminals have been neutralized or killed in Operation Lake Sanity," Ibrahim said.
Ibrahim said the task force had freed 4,500 people held captive by the insurgents, who killed five task force troops and wounded 20. He said the joint forces also had seized large quantities of ammunition and weapons, but he did not elaborate.
At Thursday's meeting, the four militaries agreed to extend the operation for two more months.
Ibrahim said insurgents were hiding in communities around the Lake Chad basin, which stretches across the task force nations.
Plea for cooperation
"The population has been very good," he said. "We are there to protect them. They should continue to cooperate with us; if they have information, they should pass it to us. When they see people who are strange in their neighborhoods, they should report to the nearest security official."
Midjiyawa Bakari, governor of Cameroon's Far North region, which borders Chad and Nigeria, said through a messaging application from the capital, Maroua, that during the operation they have been urging villagers to help them flush out the militants.
Bakari said he had personally embarked on an awareness-raising campaign in border towns and villages. He said he had spoken with clerics, chiefs, and community leaders and elites who feared payback from Boko Haram. Bakari said he'd told them to immediately distance themselves from terrorist groups, who are responsible for disorder and conflict in their areas.
Nigerian Islamists Boko Haram began launching attacks at home in 2009 before spreading to Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. The Multinational Joint Task Force of the Lake Chad Basin Commission was created in 2014 to fight the militants and has about 11,000 troops and rescue workers.
The United Nations says the conflict has left more than 36,000 people dead, mainly in Nigeria, while 3 million have been forced to flee their homes.