Hundreds of Nigerian civilians settled near the Chadian contingents, who returned to Chad on Friday after their mission against Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria, fled for fear of further attacks by the jihadists.
The 1,200 Chadian soldiers, who had been deployed for nine months to Nigeria as part of the fight against the jihadist group, arrived on Friday in their capital, N’Djamena, via Cameroon.
Perched on their pick-ups for some or sitting on the tanks transported by the tank carriers, they crossed the bridge which separates the Cameroonian city of Kousseri from N’Djamena under the curious gaze of the inhabitants, a journalist from the city reported on Friday. AFP.
« These are our elements who left to lend a hand to Nigerian soldiers several months ago who returned to the country, they finished their mission, » said Saturday the spokesman of the Chadian army, Colonel Azem Bermandoa, without specify whether these soldiers were going to be relieved by others. “There are no longer any of our soldiers in Nigeria. Those who have returned will return to their sector of Lake Chad ”.
Their departure sowed panic in the small town of Gajiganna, near Monguno, two bases where the Chadian forces were gathered.
« The Chadian soldiers left their base in Gajiranna and the garrison town of Monguno, with their tanks and all their military equipment, » a member of the civil militias engaged in the fight against the jihadists told AFP, under the cover of anonymity.
« Vulnerable »
« The Nigerian soldiers who worked alongside the Chadians have left too, » he added, without specifying whether the departure was an order from the hierarchy or whether the soldiers had fled.
« As a result, most residents of Gajiganna have left for Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, for fear that the terrorists will attack them, » the source said.
A resident of Gajiganna, contacted by the AFP, said he left, with about four hundred people, as of Wednesday.
« We left as soon as we realized that the Nigerian soldiers had also left their base, shortly after the withdrawal of the Chadians, » said the resident.
« Almost the whole village has left because we feel vulnerable and unprotected in the face of Boko Haram, » he said. « They will probably come to attack us if we stay in Gajiganna. »
The insurgency of Boko Haram and its ISWAP faction, affiliated with the Islamic State group, continues to rage in the Lake Chad region.
The jihadist group Boko Haram was born in Nigeria, and fighting between the group and the army has claimed at least 35,000 lives since 2009, and has spread to neighboring Niger, Chad and Cameroon.
Islands and swamps
ISWAP is particularly active around Lake Chad, a vast expanse of islets and swamp-like water used as haunts and training camps.
ISWAP has carried out numerous raids against military bases and direct attacks against Nigerian and regional security forces. In late December, six Nigerian soldiers were killed in a new jihadist raid.
Since 2015, the countries of the region have been fighting against Boko Haram and ISWAP in the Multinational Joint Force (FMM), a regional coalition engaged around the lake with the help of vigilance committees made up of inhabitants. It was in this context that the 1,200 Chadian soldiers were sent to Nigeria.
The Chadian soldiers returned from Nigeria will soon be « deployed in the region of Lake Chad (Chadian side) to strengthen a security system along the border, » said AFP a senior official of the administration of this region .
In recent weeks, Chad has faced several deadly attacks by the jihadist group. In mid-December, 14 people were killed and 13 reported missing in a fishing village located around the lake.
Cameroon is also facing a surge in Boko Haram attacks, according to an Amnesty International report released in December, which said 275 people, including 225 civilians, were killed in 2019.
The Nigerian military has so far made no comments.