Nigeria has deployed large numbers of troops to the country's northeast to drive out Islamist militants. The decision comes after a state of emergency was declared in areas where the Boko Haram sect has seized control.
A statement from Nigeria's military on Wednesday announced the operation would rid the country's border areas of terrorist bases.
"The operations which will involve massive deployment of men and resources, is aimed at asserting the nation's territorial integrity," said the statement.
The campaign targets semi-desert areas of three states where President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency earlier this week - Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe. Late on Tuesday, Jonathan admitted for the first time that Islamists from Boko Haram had taken over parts of Borno, the group's stronghold.
A reporter from the news agency Reuters saw six trucks enter the capital of Adamawa state, Yola, while residents in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, reported an influx of troops.
Since 2010, Boko Haram has carried out dozens of attacks, killing at least 1600, which have intensified in the last month. The insurgents say they are fighting to create an Islamic state in the north.
Boko Haram, whose name means, "Western education is sacrilege," in the Hausa language has been calling for shariah law to be imposed across Nigeria.
Muslims comprise about half of Nigeria's population of 175 million. About 40 percent of its citizens are Christian.
Warning from Washington
A spokesman from the US State Department has called on Nigeria to avoid being "heavy-handed" as it moves against the Islamist militants, saying the rights of civilians must be protected.
"We call on Nigerian officials to ensure that Nigeria's security forces protect civilians in any security response in a way that respects human rights and the rule of law," said spokesman Patrick Ventrell, adding that Washington was watching how Nigeria handled the state of emergency.
"We have made clear to the Nigerian government that its heavy-handed response to insecurity in northern Nigeria and the failure to address human rights violations will potentially affect our ability to provide security assistance going forward," Ventrell said.
jr/msh (Reuters, AFP)