Nigerian Military Enter 'Final Stages' of Boko Haram Offensive

Boko Haram
Nigerian soldiers hold up a Boko Haram flag that they had seized in the recently retaken town of Damasak, Nigeria, March 18, 2015. Emmanuel Braun/REUTERS

Nigerian military forces are in the "final stages" of a military offensive against the radical Islamist group Boko Haram as they close in on the heart of the terror group's operation in the Sambisa Forest in the country's northeast, according to the Nigerian government.

Government spokesman Mike Omeri, speaking to Newsweek, said that Nigerian military forces had entered the Sambisa Forest and had killed a top Boko Haram commander in clashes, striking another blow to the group which has been on the back foot since the beginning of a six-week offensive announced in February by outgoing president Goodluck Jonathan.

"They just entered," said Omeri. "Yesterday, they were on the fringes of the Sambisa Forest and they have got one of the commanders of the insurgents. They took him out, he was killed."

"This is the final stages of the major exercise," he asserted, adding that the group control "no more major towns" because of the military operation. The Sambisa Forest is the location where a number of the Chibok schoolgirls are believed to have been taken by the group after their kidnap last year, with a number reportedly being sold into marriage with the group's fighters. It is located approximately 100km (60 miles) from the village.

"Of course, we have defeated their capabilities and most of their camps," he says when asked if he is confident that the group will be defeated. He also admits that sporadic attacks may occur despite the military's gains.

"We are dealing with the blockage of their entry from urban communities," he notes. "We have to protect [from] these catastrophes and mass destructions, however we will not rule out attacks here and there."

Omeri's claims were countered by a Reuters report published today which cites military sources claiming that, while Nigerian forces had indeed entered the Boko Haram stronghold, they have since retreated to the outskirts of the Sambisa Forest because of booby traps and landmines planted by the terror group. The newswire reported that three Nigerian vigilantes, who were assisting the fight to oust the group from territory in the northeast states of Borno and Yobe, were killed.

Frank Charnas, a senior intelligence analyst at geopolitical risk analyst Max Power Solutions, says that the Nigerian move to the fringes of the Sambisa Forest signals the end of Boko Haram acting as a military, being forced underground by the military coalition - which includes Nigeria, Niger and Chad - fighting against it.

"I believe that this will be the end of Boko Haram as an ISIS-style military organisation, a militant group acting as a military," he says. "Now that they have been pushed back and, now that they really are fighting what appears to be their last battle, I think that this phase of the conflict having Boko acting as a military against the Nigerian military is over."

"It does represent quite a significant step on behalf of the Nigerian military because up until now they have not gone into the Sambisa Forest and have also been pretty poor at taking the offensive to Boko," he adds.

According to the Council on Foreign Relations, Boko Haram killed over 10,000 people in 2014, the deadliest year in their six-year insurgency against Nigerian authorities in hope of creating an Islamic caliphate. They have already reportedly slain more than 2,000 people in the first months of 2015 following a series of mass killings in the town of Baga, in the state of Borno.