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2,000 hostages freed as African troops close in on Boko Haram

By
Andrew V. Pestano
Cameroon, Chad, Niger, Nigeria and Benin established a joint military force last year to combat the militant Islamist group Boko Haram. Cameroonian and Nigerian soldiers killed at least 300 Boko Haram militants and liberated at least 2,000 people during security operations. File photo by Oleg Zabielin/Shutterstock
Cameroon, Chad, Niger, Nigeria and Benin established a joint military force last year to combat the militant Islamist group Boko Haram. Cameroonian and Nigerian soldiers killed at least 300 Boko Haram militants and liberated at least 2,000 people during security operations. File photo by Oleg Zabielin/Shutterstock

ABUJA, Nigeria, April 6 (UPI) -- At least 2,000 hostages were freed and more than 300 Islamist militants killed as government troops closed in on Boko Haram in northern Nigeria.

The regional security operation took place Sunday and Monday in and surrounding Nigeria's northern town of Walassa, near the Cameroon border. Cameroon is part of a 8,700-strong coalition with Benin, Chad, Nigeria and Niger, united in the fight against Boko Haram, which pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in March 2015.

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Cameroonian soldiers of the Multinational Joint Task Force and Nigerian Army soldiers from the 152nd battalion also destroyed a Boko Haram logistics base where explosives were manufactured. The operation seeks to flush out Boko Haram militants from hideouts along the borders of Cameroon, Chad and Niger.

"We recovered several weapons, destroyed vehicles, generators and other war materials," Cameroonian Gen. Bouba Dobekreo said Tuesday.

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Dobekreo said 17 villages had been freed and that his forces are prepared to eradicate the Boko Haram threat.

Nigeria's defense headquarters recently established a camp to rehabilitate former Boko Haram members. The effort, called Operation Safe Corridor, is "geared toward rehabilitating and reintegrating the repentant and surrendering Boko Haram members back into normal life in the society," Nigerian Army public relations Brig. Gen. Rabe Abubakar said in a statement.

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Boko Haram was designated a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department in 2013. The militant Islamic group seeks to establish an Islamic state in Nigeria and has ruthlessly targeted civilians.

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On Sunday, the Nigerian army said it captured Khalid al-Barnawi, leader of the Boko Haram splinter group Ansaru.

Also known as Mohammed Usman, al-Barnawi is among three Nigerian rebel leaders with a "specially designated global terrorist" designation given by the U.S. State Department. The United States had also offered a $5 million reward for information leading to his arrest.

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