Troops from Chad and Niger have retaken two towns previously held by Boko Haram in northern Nigeria. Hundreds of rebels have been killed, military sources claim.
The troops managed to drive Boko Haram Islamists out of the Nigerian towns of Malam Fatouri and Damasak, as part of a major offensive which Niger and Chad forces launched over the weekend.
"We have kicked the enemy out of these areas and they are now under our control," a Niger military source said.
The source also claimed about 300 Boko Haram militants had been killed, although the number has not been officially confirmed.
A Chadian officer, who asked not to be named, told the Reuters news agency that about ten Chadian soldiers were killed in fighting to free the towns. Thirty more were reportedly been wounded.
The governments of Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Benin have all joined Nigeria's fight against Boko Haram.
The latest offensive opened up a new front in an attempt to wipe out the extremist group, which has killed over 13,000 since the beginning of the insurgency almost six years ago. The group is fighting to establish a caliphate on Nigerian territory, and has recently pledged alliance to the 'Islamic State' militant group in Iraq and Syria.
Boko Haram 'bandits'
Witnesses in the Niger town of Bosso reported about 200 military vehicles crossing over into Nigeria since Saturday. One of the residents said the deployment was followed by loud detonations, signaling heavy combat with Boko Haram.
Chadian Brigadier General Zakaria Ngobongue said Monday that his soldiers had entered Nigeria alongside troops from Niger, but declined to give further details.
Speaking to reporters after the closing ceremony for Flintlock, a three-week US-sponsored training exercise in counter-terrorism tactics, Ngobongue called Boko Haram "bandits and criminals who have nothing to do with religion."
The regional forces have claimed a series of victories against rebels in recent weeks, with much of the focus on the Chadian army, which had previously fought al Qaeda in Mali alongside French troops.
dj/jr (Reuters, AFP, AP)