Women and children abducted by suspected Boko Haram militants have been freed by soldiers deployed for special operations in the three states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa, Director of Defence Information, Brig.-Gen. Chris Olukolade, said on Friday.
According to him, the special forces stormed one of the camps located within the Sambisa Forest, where the women and children were being held and rescued nine of them – three women and six children.
The defence spokesman said the soldiers were still combing the forest in a frantic search for a woman and two of her children believed to be missing in the 16-kilometre long forest.
Olukolade explained that the women were abducted from a police formation during the attack on some security establishments in Bama, Borno State, on May 7, 2013.
“Troops of the special operations have rescued three women and six children after overrunning three terrorists’ camps in the notorious Sambisa Forest of Central Borno in the ongoing onslaught against terrorists.
“The women and children, who were kidnapped from police barracks and environs during the May 7 attack on Bama, had been held in the camp since their abduction and were featured in the video by Abubakar Shekau recently.
“Troops combing the forest are, however, yet to locate one other woman and her two children,” he said.
A BBC report had quoted the leader of the Boko Haram sect (Shekau) as having said in a video on May 13, 2013, that some women and children were taken by operatives of the sect in retaliation for the arrest of the wives and children of their members by security operatives.
“If they do not leave our wives and children, we will not leave them,” Shekau reportedly said.
Shekau was quoted to have said that anybody taken into custody could begin a new life as a “servant.” He did not give further details.
Olukolade, who said that security operatives had destroyed all the militant camps in northern and central Borno, was, however, silent on the number of such camps that were raided and demolished by the special forces.
He dismissed insinuations that civilians could have been mistaken for Boko Haram operatives during the operation around Sambisa and other areas.
He noted that the military gathered enough intelligence about the area before embarking on the assignment.
“All camps have been destroyed. As for people crossing the border, there is no need to attack anybody. But if somebody is armed, it would not be easy for such a person to cross the border.
“I must remind you that this operation is targeted at camps; if you are found at a militant camp, you cannot be said to be a civilian; and if you are carrying a gun, you cannot fit into being described as a civilian, at least at that time,” he stressed.
He said the raid at Sambisa revealed that the militants had developed from the use of small arms to the use of heavy military hardware as indicated by the anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons recovered from them.
Olukolade, who showed video clips of a Defence Headquarters Operational Assessment Team led by the Chief of Training and Operations at the DHQ, Maj.-Gen. Lawrence Ngugbane, said the Chief of Defence Staff was happy with the performance of the troops and their adherence to the rule of engagement in the ongoing operation. [Punch]