Boko Haram takes on Chadian forces in Nigeria town
Boko Haram on Wednesday launched a pre-dawn raid in Gamboru, northeastern Nigeria, looking to overwhelm Chadian troops who had pushed them out of the border town.
The military in N`Djamena said the militants were repelled but the counter-attack was an indication of the task facing regional forces aiming to crush the rebellion.
Troops from Chad, Cameroon and Niger have been deployed to fight the Islamists, whose bloody insurgency has claimed more than 13,000 lives since 2009 and now threatens Nigeria`s neighbours.
In Niger a suicide bomber was killed, without causing any other casualties, in the Diffa region bordering Nigeria on Wednesday, a local official told AFP.
The bomber, a man or woman wearing a hijab, was spotted by police who opened fire. "The explosion left no victims," the official said.
Nigeria`s President Goodluck Jonathan was expected to make his first public comments since the ongoing operations were used as an excuse to delay the country`s general election.
The head of state was due to talk about "current national issues" to a panel of journalists, with the question and answer session broadcast live on state-run television and radio.
Jonathan and his government have come under fire after the country`s electoral commission announced a six-week postponement to Saturday`s predicted knife-edge vote.
Nigeria`s national security advisor, Sambo Dasuki maintained that his advice to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was not politically motivated.
He also told AFP in an interview that Boko Haram would effectively be crushed by the time of the rescheduled polling day, March 28.Boko Haram`s counter-attack on Gamboru, which has been repeatedly targeted in the past, is an established tactic from the militants, who have seized dozens of towns and villages since mid-2014.
The extent of the rebels` control of the captured areas has been hard to verify, with claim and counter-claim that the authority has repeatedly switched between the insurgents and the military.
Boko Haram`s apparent ability to regroup is a sign of its transformation from a rag-tag guerrilla group carrying out hit and run strikes to a more effective fighting force.
The insurgents were initially pushed out of Gamboru, which lies on the Nigerian side of the border with Cameroon in the eastern fringe of Borno state, on February 3.
Chadian ground troops crossed over the bridge marking the frontier after days of sustained bombardment. The following day, rebel fighters counter-attacked in the Cameroon town of Fotokol.
"The Boko Haram elements wanted to surprise us by attacking at about 4:00 am (0300 GMT)," a military source in N`Djamena told AFP of the latest attack.
"We were aware of it from the day before and were prepared. They arrived with 14 vehicles and two armoured vehicles. We repulsed them and they retreated.
"A helicopter was brought in to join the pursuit and destroy them."
One Chadian soldier and several Boko Haram fighters were killed, while eight troops were injured, the source said. Boko Haram has stepped up the frequency and intensity of its attacks since the turn of the year, in part to undermine the Nigerian elections.
A devastating attack on the fishing hub of Baga on January 3 has been seen as a turning point in regional cooperation, galvanising neighbouring powers into providing assistance to the Nigerian Army.
Since then, there have been repeated attacks in northern Cameroon, while the Islamists last weekend opened up a new front across the border in Niger, attacking the border region of Diffa.
Niamey on Tuesday evening imposed a 15-day state of emergency in Diffa, where thousands of Nigerians have fled the violence, heaping pressure on food supplies and infrastructure.
A journalist in the area said businesses, government offices and schools were shut as residents sought to flee.
Nigeria maintains the involvement of troops from Chad, Cameroon and now Niger, after the parliament in Niamey approved the deployment of soldiers, is part of an existing agreement.
At the same time, all four countries, whose borders converge on Lake Chad, with Benin, Nigeria`s neighbour to the west, agreed to provide 8,700 personnel for an African Union-backed regional force.
Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau said in a video published on Monday that the group would defeat the regional forces.
Cameroon`s President Paul Biya, however, hit back, saying in a speech broadcast on Tuesday evening that the country would "emerge victorious" from the fight.
"Friendly nations, countries passionate about freedom, the international community, global opinion are with us," he said on state television.