It appears that the recent victories against Boko Haram insurgents in several communities in northeastern Nigeria, were not by Nigerian troops.
A report in the New York Times said only soldiers from Chad and Niger were present at the liberated towns and were begging Nigerian soldiers to come and take them over.
Damasak, on the border with Niger but close to Cameroon, was a regional headquarters for the militants. Troops from Niger and Chad seized Damasak on Saturday, ending months of control by the Islamist militants.
The Chadian soldiers ushered a small group of journalists around this week for a brief look at Boko Haram’s former northern Nigerian stronghold, and into the dimensions, and difficulties, of a cross-border, four-nation fight against the Islamists.
The soldiers from Chad and Niger had succeeded here, but there was not a single Nigerian soldier to be found. The force members were bewildered to find themselves as foreign liberators without any help from the Nigerians and are wondering why they are the ones holding towns like Damasak, several days after the last Boko Haram fighter has fled or been killed.
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Second Lt. Mohammed Hassan said: “We asked them to come, to receive this town from us, but they have not come. It is because they are afraid.
We fought on the night of the 14th, and the last attack was on the 15. We called the Nigerians on the 16 and told them to come; they didn’t believe we were here.”
In an interview on Thursday, Chad’s foreign minister, Moussa Faki Mahamat, had said: “The Nigerian Army has not succeeded in facing up to Boko Haram. The occupation of these towns, this is up to Nigeria. My fondest wish is that they assume their responsibilities.”
The foreign soldiers, who said they do not want to occupy somebody else’s country, are worried that if they leave and the Nigerians have not arrived to take over, the Islamist sect may return.
Savouring their victory over the dreaded sect, the soldiers around Lieutenant Hassan displayed a pile of battered rifles captured from the Islamists, some with Arabic exhortations on the stocks.
They explained with satisfaction that the fight was definitely over as they had thoroughly searched the looted town and its parched savanna surroundings in the days after the fighting, and there was not a single Boko Haram fighter to be found.
Lieutenant Hassan recounted how, after the battle, a Boko Haram prisoner seemed terrified by the Chadians’ superior matériel — Chad has perhaps the region’s best-equipped army after decades of war, civil and external. The captured fighter insisted that the lieutenant’s armored personnel carrier was self-driving and ate its opponents.
Damasak is a trading town in Borno state near Niger's border and is about 200km (120 miles) from the state's main city of Maiduguri. For now, Damask is deserted, its population of 200,000 having been dispersed or killed. Boko Haram captured the town late in November.
Even as the Nigerian government, with a national election looming, insists that its forces have chased Boko Haram fighters out of much of their northern territory, hundreds of thousands of Nigerians still cannot return home to the towns.
Reports surfaced recently that troops from Chad and Niger had discovered a mass grave outside of Damasak.