Nigerian Army: 338 Hostages Rescued From Boko Haram

The Nigerian military say they have rescued 338 hostages, mostly women and children, from camps run by suspected members of the Islamist group Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria.

A post on the Nigerian Defence Headquarters Facebook page—which the military uses to make official announcements—said that 30 suspected Boko Haram members were killed in the raids carried out on Tuesday on the fringes of the Sambisa Forest in Borno state. The post said that the rescued captives included 192 children, 138 women and eight men, who have been taken to the northeastern town of Mubi, which was recaptured by the army from the militants in November.

The post did not state whether any of the rescued hostages were members of a group of more than 200 Chibok schoolgirls kidnapped by the Islamist group in April 2014, the majority of whom still have not been located, and the Nigerian Defence Headquarters was not available to comment on the identity of the rescued hostages.

The post also said that army troops had killed four suspected Boko Haram members whom they believed were about to conduct a suicide bombing mission in Adamawa state, northeastern Nigeria, and seized unexploded ordinance and mortar bombs.

"The successful clearance operations and ambushing of the terrorists has further degraded them and saved the lives of so many innocent victims of their suicide bombings," the Nigerian Defence Headquarters said.

However, Malte Liewerscheidt, senior Africa analyst at U.K. risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft, says that the hostage figure provided by the Nigerian army is "dubious" and suggests the captives may have been freed as a result of Nigerian troops conquering the territory in which they were held, rather than as the result of a targeted rescue operation.

Nigeria has stepped up its battle against Boko Haram since President Muhammadu Buhari took office in March. Buhari has enlisted the help of neighbors Chad, Niger and Cameroon in fighting the Islamist group, setting up a joint force based in the Chadian capital and led by a Nigerian commander. The president has also set the Nigerian army a December deadline by which he expects the six-year insurgency to be ended, a decision that has been criticized by Nigeria's former head of state Yakubu Gowon.

The Islamist group have responded with a spate of suicide bombings, including a double blast at a mosque in the Borno state capital of Maiduguri which killed scores of worshipers in October.

Liewerscheidt suggests that the looming deadline and the continued lack of movement on the Chibok girls means that the army is under pressure to provide evidence of progress. "The Chibok girls are still high on the agenda and President Buhari has promised to do everything he can to rescue those hostages, and so [the army] have to present some results," says Liewerscheidt.

During a visit to the U.S. in July, Buhari said he would be willing to negotiate with Boko Haram over the release of the girls.