THE Republic of Chad has sent a warplane and ground troops to drive Islamist extremists from a Nigerian border town, leaving it strewn with the bodies of the terrorists.
Thursday’s bombing marked the first such action by foreign troops on Nigerian soil to fight Boko Haram militants.
The African Union (AU) has also moved to send in ground forces and the United States said it would help Nigeria battle the extremists.
Boko Haram fighters made a second attack in a week on Maiduguri, the biggest city in Nigeria’s north-east, on Thursday.
Soldiers fled when insurgents began launching rockets just outside the city of two million people, but the militants were fought off by a civilian self-defence group armed with home-made hunting rifles, spokesman Muhammad Gava said.
AU chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, at a summit in Ethiopia, called for the deployment of 7,500 West African troops to fight the spreading Islamist uprising.
A senior US official said her government would take a role in the fight against Boko Haram. “We are prepared to provide technical support, training and equipment to fight the Boko Haram group. The group’s activity in the region has clearly affected our attention in Africa away from development,” Linda Thomas-Greenfield, US assistant secretary of state for Africa, said.
Abari Modu told how he witnessed the Chadian offensive on Malumfatori village in Nigeria’s Borno state.
“We saw the fighter jet when it started shelling and bombarding the insurgents who were lodging mostly inside the local government secretariat and the district head’s palace,” he said.
Mr Modu, who crossed the border to a Chadian village after Boko Haram seized Malumfatori at the end of October, said the bodies of dead Boko Haram fighters were still in the town yesterday.
He said the Chadian jet had pursued fleeing fighters to the border and that the bombardment had been co-ordinated with Chadian ground troops, offering the fighters no escape. A Nigerian military officer confirmed the account and said the operation was solely Chadian.
Nigeria’s defence ministry spokesman, Brigadier General Chris Olukolade, tweeted that Nigerian jet fighters had participated in the attack, but witnesses disputed that.
Boko Haram’s five-year Islamist uprising has killed about 10,000 people in the past year and displaced one million.
Ms Zuma, a South African politician, called for 7,500 troops to be sent to combat Boko Haram at an AU meeting on Thursday in Addis Ababa.
Nigeria and its neighbours Benin, Chad, Niger and Cameroon have each promised one battalion and the AU hopes for more pledges.
The troops would be deployed as a Multinational Joint Task Force, with a 12-month period of initial operation.
It would also be mandated to search for, and free, all abductees, including more than 200 girls and young women kidnapped in Chibok last year.
“We will never forget the girls kidnapped from Chibok last April, and I will never stop calling for their immediate and unconditional release,” United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, a guest at the AU summit, said.