Hundreds of Militants Killed as Boko Haram Attack City of Two Million

Boko Haram
Members of the military stand at the scene of an explosion near a petrol station in Kano November 15, 2014. Stringer/REUTERS

Hundreds of Boko Haram militants were killed by local vigilantes and Nigerian soldiers Sunday after the Islamist militant group launched its second failed assault on the northeastern city of Maiduguri in the space of a week.

The group's fighters reportedly incurred "massive casualties" in the early-morning offensive when they rode into the Borno State capital in tanks, pickup trucks and motorbikes, according to defence ministry spokesman, Chris Olukolade.

Following their failed attempt to capture Maiduguri last week, the radical Islamists regrouped and encircled the city of two million in order to launch their next attack but were met by similar resistance.

Boko Haram's entry into the city - via the southern road leading to the town of Damboa - was stifled by local vigilantes and the Nigerian army, who killed hundreds of the group's members and forced many into the surrounding Sambisa Forest. The militants then regrouped and attempted to attack the city from the east but failed again when met by Nigerian forces.

After the attack, a Nigerian army spokesman Col. Tukur Ismail Gusau, told local Nigerian media: "The security situation in Maiduguri is now under our control. Our troops are pursuing them [Boko Haram] back into the forest."

Analysts believe that the reason the group launched these two large-scale offensives within such a short space of time was because of the pressure Boko Haram is under from a renewed "military surge" by regional powers such as Cameroon and Chad. These two countries have started conducting airstrikes and ground operations against a number of towns the group controls along the shared Nigerian-Cameroonian border.

"What is really noteworthy is the fact that they put a lot into this attack and the previous one. They mobilised considerable resources - this isn't a small skirmish," says Imad Mesdoua, political analyst at Africa-focused political risk consultancy Africa Matters. "There is implicitly this wish to project an image of a group that is omnipresent and that is still alive and kicking."

"There might also be an element of Boko Haram trying to counter in the face of a recent Nigerian-Chad military surge," he adds. "The sudden Nigerian-Chadian-Cameroonian military push in these border towns gives them [Boko Haram] more incentive to attack inward cities as important as Maiduguri."

Despite Nigeria boasting Africa's largest military, the threat the group poses to wider West African security has forced countries neighbouring Nigeria into a regional 'coalition of the willing'.

At the African Union (AU) summit in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa last week, Nigeria and its neighbours - Benin, Cameroon, Chad and Niger - agreed that a Multinational Joint Task Force [MJTF] of 7,500 troops will be created to tackle the radical Islamist group.

"Boko Haram's horrendous abuses, unspeakable cruelty, total disregard for human lives, and wanton destruction of property are unmatched," said the chairwoman of AU, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

"No efforts should be spared, as part of the AU counterterrorism agenda, to defeat this group," she added. The details of the MJTF will be ironed out at a meeting of the regional powers in the Cameroonian capital, Yaoundé, on 5th-7th February.

Discussing the AU task force's prospects in the battle against Boko Haram, Mesdoua says that "political support" and "military coordination" will be key to its success on the battlefield.

"If you have those two things, alongside the numbers that are suggested, I don't see why the force would not be effective against Boko Haram," he asserted.

In light of the security threat posed by the group in the northeastern regions of Borno and Yobe - which both remain under a state of emergency - leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC) political party Muhammadu Buhari, cancelled his trip to the embattled city of Maiduguri today. Incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan's People's Democratic Party (PDP) also cancelled a rally to be held today in Yobe State capital, Damaturu.

The Council on Foreign Relations' Nigeria Security Tracker estimates that the terror group have killed up to 10,404 people since January 2014. In its four-year-long insurgency, which seeks to create an Islamic caliphate in similar vein to that of the Islamic State, the group have captured territory equal to the size of Belgium.

The Hunt for Boko Haram, an in-depth ebook on the terrorists tearing Nigeria apart by Alex Perry, is available now from Newsweek Insights.