Nigerian forces have killed hundreds of Boko Haram extremists while recapturing the garrison town of Monguno, army sources said. The Islamist group has threatened new attacks, despite the defeat.
Nigerian government troops captured 11 towns and villages and inflicted "massive" losses on the Boko Haram insurgents in Nigeria after a two-day land and air operation, defense spokesman Chris Olukolade said on Wednesday.
"Over 300 terrorists were killed while a few were also captured," Olukolade said in a statement.
In addition to pushing the rebels out the northeastern city Monguno, the military recovered and destroyed armored vehicles, an anti-aircraft gun, about 50 cases of bombs, machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, ammunition, six all-terrain vehicles and 300 motorcycles, according to the statement.
Two Nigerian soldiers were killed and 10 others injured in the operation, the army spokesman said. Olukolade's claims have yet been independently verified.
Civilian vigilantes in the town confirmed to the AFP news agency that Monguno had been retaken but said only that there were heavy casualties, without specifying numbers.
In the past, the Nigerian army has been accused of inflating enemy losses and downplaying deaths of its own soldiers, as well as of civilian casualties. Its claims have often been disputed by eye-witnesses on the ground. However, the recapture of Monguno, which militants took over several weeks ago, appears to be the latest in a string of victories, with Chadian soldiers leading the charge in border regions.
Troops from Niger and Cameroon are also involved in the anti-Islamist offensive.
Boko Haram vows more attacks
Also on Wednesday, the head of the Boko Haram group warned it would launch attack in order to disrupt presidential elections in Nigeria, which are scheduled for March 28. The organization believes democracy to be un-Islamic.
"Allah will not leave you to proceed with these elections. Allah says that the authority is only to him, only his rule is the one which applies on this land," group leader Abubakar Shekau said in a video posted on Twitter.
Nigeria has already postponed its election by six weeks over security concerns caused by the Boko Haram insurgency.
More than 13,000 people are believed to have been killed by Boko Haram since 2009, with some 1.5 million people displaced within Nigerian borders and thousands more leaving the country.
The Islamist group controls the area about the size of Belgium and seeks to establish an Islamic state.
dj/kms (AFP, Reuters, dpa)