YAOUNDE - A convoy of Chadian tanks and armored vehicles motored out of the capital Friday to help fight the Nigerian insurgent group Boko Haram.
The convoy left N'Djamena soon after Chad's parliament voted to send troops into nearby Cameroon, whose forces have clashed repeatedly with the militants.
Chadian journalist Michel Didama told VOA's French-to-Africa Service that he saw the convoy heading south, presumably to cross the Logone River into Cameroon. He said the soldiers seemed "excited" at the prospect of fighting the insurgents.
It was not clear if the troops will enter Boko Haram's strongholds in northeastern Nigeria.
Chad said earlier this week that it would support Cameroon, whose president, Paul Biya, had appealed for a coordinated international response to Boko Haram. Biya did not say when nor how many troops would be deployed in his Thursday announcement.
But Cameroon military spokesman Colonel Didier Badjeck said negotiations with Chad intensified after suspected Boko Haram fighters attacked Cameroonian villages from Lake Chad, which borders Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger.
Badjeck said they have been facing Boko Haram fighters who changed strategy and were constantly attacking Cameroonian villages from Lake Chad. He said the group has been demonstrating resilience — an indication that it is still receiving support. Cameroon has deployed thousands of troops to its northern border in response to the growing attacks. Earlier this week, the Cameroon military said it repelled an attempted attack on a military base in Kolofata and killed at least 143 suspected Boko Haram fighters.
Witnesses and human rights groups say the militants also burned thousands of homes in the Nigerian town of Baga and surrounding areas after driving out government soldiers on January 3.
The destruction was condemned by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who said it amounted to "nothing less" than a crime against humanity.
Thousands of Baga residents fled for the Borno state capital of Maiduguri or crossed into Chadian territory over Lake Chad. The U.N. refugee agency said this week that many refugees remain stuck on islands in the lake.
Boko Haram now controls large parts of Borno state, and the insurgency has become a major issue in the re-election campaign of Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan.
The Boko Haram threat is likely to loom large at the AU summit meetings in Addis Ababa later this month.
According to reports by Reuters, West African leaders are considering creating a military force to fight Boko Haram Islamist militants and will hold a regional summit next week to discuss the issue, Ghana's President John Mahama said on Friday.
Regional bloc ECOWAS will seek the support of the AU for its plans, said Mahama.
“Nigeria is taking military action and Cameroon is fighting Boko Haram, but I think we are increasingly getting to the point where probably a regional or a multinational force is coming into consideration,” Mahama, who currently chairs ECOWAS, told a news conference.
“It is what we want to discuss at the AU because, if that must happen, there must be a mandate to allow such a force to operate,” he said.
Portions of this report are from Reuters and AFP.