“Boko Haram is finished” shouted a jubilant soldier from Niger as his comrades danced and waved their rifles in the air to celebrate the liberation of the northern Nigerian town of Damasak.
Graffiti painted on walls in Arabic and Boko Haram’s black and white flag fluttering on the dome of a mosque are now among the few reminders of the Islamists’ four-month reign over the town, which forces from Chad and Niger freed on Saturday.
The town’s recapture was the latest victory in a regional offensive that has turned the tide against the six-year old jihadi insurgency. If troop morale is a guide to military success, then the regional force fighting Boko Haram looks set to press home its battlefield gains.
Hundreds of heavily armed soldiers from Chad and Niger paraded triumphantly in Toyota pick-ups through the dusty streets of Damasak on Wednesday, cheering and waving their weapons after the town’s former occupiers fled into the surrounding countryside.
“Troop morale is sky-high,” said Niger force leader Colonel Toumba Mohamed. “We faced an enemy who had truly occupied this area and it wasn’t easy to push them out, but we did and now they are reduced to almost nothing.”
It was a stark contrast to late last year when Nigerian forces scattered as the rebels, who are fighting to carve out an Islamist state in northern Nigeria, seized a swathe of towns in Borno state including Damasak and bore down on the regional capital Maiduguri.