Nigeria army dismisses Boko Haram claims
31 May 2013, 09:17
Abuja - Nigeria's military on Thursday dismissed as
"empty propaganda" claims by Boko Haram's leader that soldiers have
retreated during an ongoing offensive, insisting the campaign has heavily
damaged the Islamist insurgents.
In a video on Tuesday, Boko Haram chief Abubakar Shekau said
soldiers have at times "turned and ran" when facing Islamist fighters
and rejected military boasting about the success of the operation.
"We consider it as empty propaganda," defence spokesperson
Brigadier General Chris Olukolade said of the video.
"To the best of our understanding, at the moment [the
insurgents] are in disarray. They are on the run and so many of them have been
captured," he told AFP.
He declined to provide figures of those captured or killed
in the operation launched on May 15 after President Goodluck Jonathan declared
a state of emergency in three north-eastern states considered Boko Haram
He said those arrested or killed have included those from
Niger, Chad, Sudan and Libya, but he could not give further details.
Later in the day, the military released a statement saying
five Niger citizens and two Chadians were among those arrested in an operation
at Tumbu Gini, a border town with Chad.
Shekau's whereabouts, which cannot be determined in the
video, remain unknown.
"I don't know his location but I know that intelligence
is trailing him," Olukolade said.
Plea for foreign assistance
Shekau called on like-minded Islamists in countries
including Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq to join the fight to create an Islamic
state in Nigeria.
Olukolade suggested the plea for foreign assistance implied
"If they are still firmly on ground why does he need
The United States and analysts have voiced concern over the
prospect of widespread civilian casualties during the operation, with Nigeria's
military having been accused of massive abuses in the past.
Olukolade told AFP he has seen no credible evidence of
soldier misconduct in the offensive.
Nigeria has however confirmed it has detained children in
connection with the insurgency. It recently announced it would release women
and children held for links to "terrorism" as a peace gesture.
Shekau claimed in another recent video that the group was
holding women and children hostage in retaliation for wives and children of its
members detained by the military.
Olukolade defended the detention of children, saying they
were held for direct involvement with the Islamists, such as acting as lookouts
or running errands. He could not give their ages or say how many had been
He denied that the wives and children of Boko Haram members
had been arrested to pressure them into turning themselves in.
With the military having cut mobile phone service in much of
the northeast and access to remote locations restricted, rival claims about the
conflict have been impossible to verify.
Olukolade said that air strikes used so far have primarily
included covering fire for ground troops tasked with storming Boko Haram camps.
The military has claimed the destruction of several such
camps, primarily in Borno state, Boko Haram's traditional base.
Boko Haram has waged its insurgency since 2009, with an
estimated 3 600 lives lost, including killings by the security forces.
The group has pushed for the creation of an Islamic state in
Africa's most populous nation and largest oil producer, though its demands have