ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) — Nigeria’s military claims it has destroyed the headquarters of Boko Haram in northeastern Gwoza town and driven the insurgents from all three northeastern states that had been an extremist stronghold. It was not possible to verify Friday’s victory that comes the day before critical presidential elections.
Nigerian officials have said a multinational offensive aims to wipe out Boko Haram. Analysts and diplomats say that is overly optimistic and that they expect that Boko Haram will be dislodged from territory but still will be able to perform hit and run attacks and suicide bombings.
The military has been pursuing “a final onslaught” that has dislodged the insurgents from towns and communities in Adamawa, Yobe and Borno states, defense spokesman Maj. Gen. Chris Olukolade told a news conference Friday.
The first news came from the official Twitter account of the Nigerian Defense Headquarters, “FLASH: Troops this morning captured Gwoza destroying the Headquarters of the Terrorists self-styled Caliphate.”
Olukolade said several fighters were killed, many captured, and a “massive cordon and search” operation has started to hunt down fleeing insurgents and any hostages. Defeated fighters are believed to be heading to the borders, where troops from a multinational force are preparing to engage them, he said.
Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau declared Gwoza the capital of a new Islamic caliphate after he seized the town in August.
There was no mention Friday of the Sambisa Forest, where Nigeria’s home-grown Islamic extremist group is believed to have several camps. Warplanes have been bombing the area for weeks. The forest starts about 30 kilometers (20 miles) from Gwoza town, which is 130 kilometers (80 miles) southeast of Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state and birthplace of Boko Haram.
Nigeria’s military, with support of troops and military aircraft from neighboring countries, in the past two months has retaken dozens of towns from Boko Haram. At least 10,000 people were killed in the Islamic uprising last year, more than 1.5 million people have been driven from the homes and unknown thousands have been kidnapped as sex slaves and conscripts.