ABUJA (Reuters) – Nigeria’s military is confident it has Boko Haram cornered, but a final push to clear the Islamist militants from their forest hideouts is being hampered by landmines, it said on Saturday.
“Everywhere they have their havens, they have mined it all around,” Major General Chris Olukolade, spokesman for Nigeria’s defence headquarters, told Reuters in an interview.
Boko Haram grabbed a swathe of Nigeria’s northeast bigger than Belgium in 2014 and caused a global outcry when it abducted over 200 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok.
A counter-attack was launched in January after a six-year insurgency that killed thousands and forced more than 1.5 million people from their homes — too late to save the presidency of Goodluck Jonathan who lost a March election to Muhammadu Buhari who vowed to get tougher on Boko Haram.
The Nigerian army says Boko Haram has now been pushed into the vast Sambisa forest in eastern Borno state. The group has made no public comment since its last audio clip, in early March, a pledge of allegiance to the Islamic State group that has seized swathes of Syria and Iraq.
The militant group was not available for comment. It communicates erratically via hard to verify videos posted online or sent to a few journalists.
Nigeria launched a ground offensive into Sambisa last month following aerial bombardments and says over 13 Boko Haram camps have since been dismantled.
“The Sambisa forest is another place that is seriously mined … A major obstacle to the move,” Olukolade said.