The Nigerian Army, troops of which are seen in this image as they prepare for training exercises, said Boko Haram's last strongholds will fall in the coming weeks. Nigeria's president previously set a December deadline to declare absolute victory over the militant Islamist group allied with the Islamic State. Photo courtesy of Nigerian Army
ABUJA, Nigeria, Sept. 1 (UPI) -- The Nigerian Army expects to destroy Boko Haram's remaining strongholds in the coming weeks in the hopes of declaring an absolute victory over the militant Islamist group ahead of a December deadline.
Maj. Gen. Lucky Irabor, the Nigerian army's commander in charge of the Operation Lafiya Dole anti-Boko Haram counter-insurgency mission, said the group -- which once cumulatively held territory the size of Belgium -- now controls small pockets of territory in the Sambisa Forest and in two areas near Lake Chad.
"Almost all of the locations held by the Boko Haram terrorists have been reclaimed. We are talking only of a few villages and towns," Irabor said, adding that the anti-Boko Haram coalition made up of Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger, Chad and Benin helped in the fight against the militants.
"There are joint operations. My commanders have an exchange with local commanders across the borders. Because of the collaborations we've had, Boko Haram has been boxed in and in a few weeks you will hear good news," Irabor said.
Boko Haram was designated a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department in 2013. The militant Islamist group seeks to establish an Islamic state in Nigeria and has ruthlessly targeted civilians. More than 20,000 people have been killed and millions have fled Nigeria due to the fighting that created a humanitarian crisis.
Boko Haram, which began its violent insurgency in 2009, would later pledge allegiance to the Islamic State -- becoming the self-proclaimed caliphate's West Africa province. Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari previously set a deadline for December to defeat Boko Haram.