MORA, CAMEROON - Cameroon says a regional force arrested more than 300 Boko Haram fighters and freed at least 2,000 people in the first five days of an operation to flush the terrorists from their remaining hideouts along the borders of Cameroon, Chad and Niger.
A thousand soldiers from the regional force, composed of fighters from Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon, returned from the Walasah area in Nigeria to their base at Mora, Cameroon.
Cameroon General Bouba Dobekreo, one of the commanders, said Tuesday that 17 villages had been freed. He said soldiers destroyed a Boko Haram logistics base and training center, plus vehicles, and had seized huge stocks of weapons and other materiel. He said they were ready to go farther into the hinterlands and do away with Boko Haram.
Dobekreo said people freed from Boko Haram strongholds had been handed over to the Nigerian army or had left the area with the soldiers' protection.
Among the returning soldiers was Eyong Levis, who said he and five other soldiers had been wounded by a land mine.
"Where I am now, I am getting better and I am determined that when I will be strong, I have to go there because those men are not armies," Levis said. "They are just rebels, and I am determined to finish with them. I hope that by the end of this year, Boko Haram will be history."
Beya Jude, a 47-year-old father of four, said he had crossed into Cameroon because so many people in his village died during the raids.
"On Saturday in the morning, they called us," he said. "We gathered our children, our wives and others. I brought my family all here."
Hundreds of Nigerian refugees were sent to the Minawao refugee camp in Cameroon.
Raids organized by the joint force since December have increased the number of internally displaced persons and refugees in Cameroon from 150,000 to more than 200,000.
More than 1,000 humanitarian workers have also been deployed to attend to the refugees and internally displaced.