The total rescued this week is now 677
(YOLA, Nigeria)—Nigeria’s military rescued 234 more girls and women from a Boko Haram forest stronghold in the country’s northeast, an announcement on social media said Saturday.
It brings the number of females declared rescued this week to more than 677.
“FLASH: Another set of 234 women and children were rescued through the Kawuri and Konduga end of the #Sambisa Forest on Thursday,” said a message on the official Twitter account of the Nigerian Defence Headquarters posted early Saturday.
The army has deployed ground troops into Sambisa Forest after weeks of punishing air raids on the area.
“The assault on the forest is continuing from various fronts and efforts are concentrated on rescuing hostages of civilians and destroying all terrorist camps and facilities in the forest,” said Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Chris Olukolade.
Sambisa Forest is the last holdout of the Islamic militants. President Goodluck Jonathan, whose term ends this month, pledged Thursday to “hand over a Nigeria completely free of terrorist strongholds.”
It is not known how many girls, women, boys and men Boko Haram has kidnapped during its nearly 6-year-old rebellion. Nigeria’s army has reported rescuing only females.
The Associated Press has reported that some women shot at their rescuers and were killed, with Boko Haram using them as an armed human shield for its main fighting force.
Most of the females are traumatized, said army spokesman Col. Sani Usman. Nigeria’s military says it has flown in medical and intelligence teams to screen the rescued girls and women and find out their identities.
It is still not known if any are the schoolgirls kidnapped from a boarding school in Chibok town a year ago — a mass kidnapping that outraged much of the world.
A counselor who has helped rehabilitate other women held captive by Boko Haram told the AP that some identify with the insurgents’ extremist ideology after months of captivity and forced marriages. It remains unclear if some of the women had willingly joined Boko Haram, or are family members of fighters.
Boko Haram began kidnapping civilians after Nigeria’s military detained the wives and children of several militant leaders. They were freed amid failed peace negotiations in 2013.
Some of the freed women and girls are pregnant, Muhammad Gavi, a spokesman for a self-defense group that fights Boko Haram, said citing information from group members who have seen the females.
Amnesty International called on authorities “to ensure that the trauma of those ‘rescued’ is not exacerbated by lengthy security screening in detention.”
The Nigerian military Friday released photos of about 20 subdued-looking children and women they said were taken between Tuesday and Thursday in the Sambisa Forest. They look generally healthy but at least one child looks emaciated and some children have the orange-colored hair signaling severe malnutrition.
A young military medic with blue rubber gloves and a surgical mask appears to be checking several children
Boko Haram continues to attack in isolated places. In the neighboring country of Niger, the governor of a province has ordered residents living near Lake Chad to evacuate by Monday when troops will flush the militants from hideouts, said a government official.
A Boko Haram attack on Karamga island in Lake Chad last weekend killed 156 militants, 46 Niger soldiers and 28 civilians, Niger’s government said.
As the insurgency spilled over Nigeria’s borders, a multinational force consisting of Nigeria and its neighbors deployed at the end of January and has retaken towns and villages where Boko Haram had declared an Islamic caliphate. Nigeria’s military, which had largely failed to curb the rebellion, has been reinvigorated by new weapons including helicopter gunships.