Nigeria ‘crushes’ Boko Haram's final stronghold
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Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari says the military has driven out the Islamist militants from their last bastion in the Sambisa forest in northeastern Borno state.
A months-long campaign has led to the "final crushing of Boko Haram terrorists in their last enclave in Sambisa Forest", President Buhari said in a statement.
"The terrorists are on the run, and no longer have a place to hide. I urge you to maintain the tempo by pursuing them and bringing them to justice," he said.
Boko Haram seeks to create a hardline Islamic state in northeast Nigeria.
The announcement follows a barrage of land and air assaults in Borno state, which is at the heart of the Islamist group’s insurgency.
Accuracy of victory reports?
The army's claim of recapturing Sambisa Forest has brought a rare glimmer of hope for millions of people caught up in the devastating conflict.
At least 20,000 people have been killed and 2.6 million displaced since the fighting broke out in 2009 sparking a humanitarian crisis.
But Buhari is seen to be keen to announce any positive news, with his government coming under fire for its handling of the recession-hit economy.
The government in Abuja, and the military, have previously claimed victories against the Islamic State group affiliate. But access to the epicentre of the conflict in Borno state is almost impossible, making independent corroboration of official statements near impossible.
A year ago Buhari said the militants had been "technically" defeated, yet they continued to wreak havoc throughout 2016.
Chibok girls still missing
Nigerian troops have reportedly rescued 1,880 civilians from their northeastern enclave over the past week and arrested hundreds of rebels.
But Buhari said on Saturday efforts need to be intensified to locate and free more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped in April 201 – of whom only a few have been freed.
His government has also struggled to stop attacks on soft targets such as markets, including the use of women and child suicide bombers.
Africa's ‘largest crisis'
The humanitarian fallout from the conflict is huge.
The United Nations say a billion dollars is needed to help victims of Boko Haram, calling the conflict "the largest crisis in Africa."
It estimates that 14 million people will need outside help in 2017, particularly in Borno state, where villagers under siege have typically been forced to abandon their crops.
"A projected 5.1 million people will face serious food shortages as the conflict and risk of unexploded improvised devices prevented farmers planting for a third year in a row, causing a major food crisis," the UN said in early December.
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