Yaounde – West African forces freed 5,000 people being held in villages by Boko Haram, in an operation that killed more than 60 fighters, Cameroon said on Wednesday.
The forces also destroyed the Islamist group’s hideout along the Nigeria-Cameroon border.
“The hostages freed consisted mostly of women, children and elderly people,’’ Cameroon’s Communications Minister, Issa Tchiroma Bakary, told a news conference.
He clarified that “the 5,000 people were saved after a sweep at the border within Cameroonian territory who were hostages that could not leave the villages and more than 60 terrorists were neutralised.’’
In addition, 21 Boko Haram suspects were arrested in the raid in the Mandara Mountains between Feb. 26 and March 7, which destroyed a fuel depot and recovered weapons, motorcycles, around 50 bicycles, flags “and various propaganda objects’’.
Boko Haram had been fighting since 2009 to try to establish an Islamic caliphate in the Lake Chad region, where Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger and Chad join.
A coordinated push by the military from the four nations dismantled much of the territory Boko Haram once held, but the group remained capable of launching lethal attacks, often targeting civilian population.
In 2014, Boko Haram gunmen abducted 276 schoolgirls from the Nigerian village of Chibok and some of them were still in captivity.
The Lake Chad region witnessed an increase in attacks bearing the hallmarks of Boko Haram in markets and refugee camps since late 2016, and the UN said more than seven million people risk starvation due to insecurity there.
As its fighters were being increasingly killed or locked up, the militants sometimes resorted to using female captives as suicide bombers.
Four female teenage suicide bombers killed two people and injured 16 others on Wednesday in the northeast Nigerian city of Maiduguri, where the uprising first started.
Bakary said no Cameroonian soldiers were killed in the raid, although one was