Nigeria’s military launched ground and air offensives against Boko Haram to recapture the northeastern town of Michika that fell to the jihadist militants over the weekend, witnesses said on Wednesday.
Hundreds of troops aided by military jets have been pounding Boko Haram positions in Michika in Adamawa state since Sunday, residents of nearby towns and villages told Agence France Presse.
“We have been hearing thunderous explosions from bombs dropped by military jets on Michika,” said a Christian priest in Chibok, 20 kilometers (13 miles) from Michika.
Chibok was the scene of a mass abduction by Boko Haram of more than 200 schoolgirls in April.
“The sounds of explosions are more intense at night when flashes of exploding bombs can be seen from Chibok,” said the priest, who asked not to be named.
It has been difficult to obtain information from the remote northeastern region where Boko Haram has seized control of numerous towns and villages in recent weeks, forcing thousands to flee their homes.
“From on top of a hill outside the village we can catch glimpses of compounds in Michika being occupied by Boko Haram and the street fight with soldiers,” said David Buba, a resident of Jiginlambu village, eight kilometers from Michika.
“Nigerian troops are getting an upper hand on Boko Haram who are overwhelmed by the ground and air offensives.”
Another resident, Silas Ande, gave a similar account.
“We can see them (the militants) running in all directions in confusion”, said Buba. “If soldiers sustain the assaults, Michika will soon be recaptured from Boko Haram.”
A huge military contingent has been deployed in Mararrabar Vimtim village, 20 kilometers outside Michika, to prevent any rebels slipping out of the town and heading towards the main commercial hub of Mubi.
There has been a mass exodus from Mubi in recent days after Boko Haram took Michika.
Security fears prompted the indefinite closure of the Adamawa State University in Mubi, according to a university statement. In October 2012, Boko Haram fighters were blamed for shooting dead at least 40 polytechnic students at their off-campus hostels in the town.
The jihadists say they want to establish an Islamic caliphate in northern Nigeria and have killed thousands since launching their campaign in 2009.
A recent upsurge in violence has seen the group seize control of large swathes of Adamawa, Borno and Yala states. The Nigerian military has been accused of failing to effectively counter the threat.
The United States last week said it was alarmed by reports that Boko Haram had captured the Borno town of Bama and the possibility of an attack on the state capital, Maiduguri, 70 kilometers away.