N‘DJAMENA (Reuters) - Soldiers from Chad and Niger on Tuesday drove Boko Haram Islamist militants from a border town that was one of the insurgency’s last footholds in northeastern Nigeria, Chad’s government and army spokesmen said.
A joint offensive by Nigeria and its neighbors has succeeded in driving the militants from most of the positions they held earlier this year, an advance that forced Nigeria to delay a February election.
The town of Malam Fatori, which was seized by Boko Haram in November, had previously been the scene of fighting between coalition forces and the militants, and military sources falsely claimed to have retaken it in January.
Chad’s Communications Minister Hassan Sylla Bakari said this time there was no doubt who controlled the town.
“We took Malam Fatori this evening. It’s an important victory in the fight against Boko Haram,” he told Reuters.
Niger military sources just across the border said air strikes began before an offensive by ground troops. They said the nearby village of Abadam was also liberated during the day and several Boko Haram fighters were killed in clashes there.
“The armies of Chad and Niger control Malam Fatori, the last bastion of Boko Haram in the northeast of Nigeria,” Chadian military spokesman Colonel Azen Bermandoa said.
He declined to give casualty figures but said the town had fallen after intense combat.
A Chadian army officer contacted in Malam Fatori said it had been reduced to ruins.
“We took back a town that’s completely burned down. Before fleeing, Boko Haram set the houses and shops on fire,” he told Reuters, asking not to be named.
Nigerian and regional forces have pushed Boko Haram, which has killed thousands in its push to carve out a caliphate in northeastern Nigeria, from all but three of the 20 local government areas it occupied at the beginning of the year.
Niger said on Tuesday said more than 100 Boko Haram fighters had been killed in clashes in the last three days. Three of Niger’s soldiers had been wounded, it said.
Despite a handful of isolated attacks, Boko Haram largely failed to deliver on threats to disrupt the polls in the north when the election was eventually held on Saturday.
Former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari became the first Nigerian to oust a president through the ballot box. Results announced on Tuesday showed he had defeated Goodluck Jonathan.
Additional reporting by Abdoulaye Massalaki; Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Louise Ireland