Cameroon’s air force has bombed Boko Haram positions in the Far North province of the country for the first time after the armed group from neighbouring Nigeria seized a military camp, the government has said.
President Paul Biya personally ordered Sunday’s air strike, which forced the Boko Haram fighters to flee the camp at Assighasia, Communications Minister Issa Tchiroma Bakary said in a statement late on Sunday.
“Fighter planes went into action for the first time since the start of the conflict” on Cameroon’s side of the border, after several months of deadly raids on troops and civilians by Boko Haram, Bakary added.
“After two strikes and heavy fire … the assailants fled the Assighasia camp, … losing several fighters,” the minister said, adding that military operations were still under way and that “the toll from combat will be released once the operational evaluation is complete”.
A Boko Haram squad attacked the Assighasia camp on Sunday morning and the “Cameroonian defence forces had to withdraw after trying to defend the position”, the government statement said.
According to local reporter, Eugene Nforngwa, the attack by Boko Haram was also the first time the group had succeeded in taking a military base in the Far North of Cameroon.
The last serious attack took place in mid-October when a suicide bomber exploded a car outside the military base in Amchide. The army succeeded in destroying a tanker belonging to the fighters just before it smashed through the base of the Rapid Response Battalion (BIR in French) in the locality – just 800m from the Cameroon-Nigeria border, Nforngwa reported.
The military said then – in interviews and briefings – that it believed Boko Haram was determined to seize several border towns in Cameroon, in order to expand its caliphate across the border into Far North Cameroon, Nforngwa said. It believed that the group was also recruiting fighters in Cameroon.
Difficult to police
Though Cameroon has deployed thousands of troops to the Far North, the region is difficult to police because of the rugged terrain.
Vast expanses of territory are uninhabited and there are few physical barriers demarcating Cameroon’s border with Nigeria. Many on either side speak the same language and it is often difficult to distinguish locals from foreigners.
Boko Haram has become a deadly force to be reckoned with since 2009 in northern Nigeria and have made raids into Cameroon.
Cameroon has encouraged locals to form vigilante groups, to report strangers and suspicious behaviour in their communities and has enforced a partial curfew including on the movement of motorbikes.
Boko Haram tactics include massacres of civilians on both sides of the frontier, the razing of villages, large-scale kidnappings and, most recently, direct assaults on Cameroonian troops.