SHAFAQNA – Islamist militants in northern Nigeria yesterday launched a second major assault on the city that was the birthplace of their insurgency, a week after they were first repelled by airstrikes, soldiers and local vigilantes.
Residents in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, said that hundreds of Boko Haram fighters launched co-ordinated attacks in four places, prompting a barrage of artillery strikes to repel them, which sent thousands of residents fleeing for their lives.
The separatist extremists have captured dozens of remote villages in northeastern Nigeria, kidnapping and killing countless civilians and overrunning military bases. However, they have been unable to rout the Nigerian armed forces in the city of two million people, which have been backed by airstrikes, heavy artillery and a civilian militia known as the Joint Task Force.
Chris Olukolade, the defence spokesman, said the dawn assault was “quickly contained”, but residents claimed that it took more than 12 hours for the fighting to subside. “The terrorists incurred massive casualties”, Mr Olukolade said. “The situation is calm as the mopping-up operation in the affected area is ongoing.”
Violence has risen sharply since the start of the year, with Boko Haram militants accused of a massacre in Baga, on the shores of Lake Chad, that left up to 2,000 people dead. Nigeria’s ambassador to the United States said that the attack last month was the deadliest assault of the five-year insurgency, although military officials claimed that the death toll had been much smaller, at 150.
The African Union promised to send 7,500 soldiers to Nigeria last week to help the country to quell the insurgency, which President Jonathan said had killed 13,000 people.
The head of America’s armed forces in Africa said that it would take “a huge international effort” to beat the insurgents, who kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls from their dormitories in Chibok in April last year.
“I think it’s going to take a huge international and multinational effort there to change a trajectory that continues to go in the wrong direction,” said General David Rodriguez, head of the US Africa Command. “The Nigerian leadership and Nigerian military are going to have to really improve their capacities to be able to handle that.”
Nigeria has the largest army in Africa, but a Pentagon assessment shared with Congress last year warned that its soldiers were afraid to fight and their commanders were so corrupt that frontline troops often lacked basic supplies such as bullets.
John Kerry, the US secretary of state, said during a visit to Lagos on Saturday that Washington was “prepared to do more” to help to fight Boko Haram. A previous training programme was abandoned in December as relations between the two countries broke down.