Military evacuating women rescued from Boko Haram

Michelle Faul
Associated Press

Lagos, Nigeria — Nigeria’s military is moving 200 girls and 93 women from a northeastern forest where they were rescued from Boko Haram extremists and plans to check their physical and mental health, the army spokesman said Wednesday.

Col. Sani Usman said many are traumatized. The military is flying in medical and intelligence teams to examine the females, he said.

Their evacuation from the Sambisa Forest — which the military says is the last stronghold of the Islamic extremists — began on Tuesday but Usman would not say where the rescued females are being taken.

On Tuesday night he had indicated that none of the 219 who are still missing more than a year after being snatched from a boarding school in Chibok, a town in northeast Nigeria, were among the rescued females. On Wednesday he said he was not categorically saying that none of the Chibok girls were among the rescued females and that they still needed to be questioned to determine their identities.

“The processing is continuing, it involves a lot of things because most of them are traumatized and you have got to put them in a psychological frame of mind to extract information from them,” Usman said.

The mass kidnapping from Chibok brought Boko Haram to the attention of the world and the failure to rescue them aroused condemnation of Nigeria’s government and military.

Of the women and girls who were rescued in recent days, an intelligence officer and a soldier said Boko Haram used some of them as armed human shields, a first line of defense that fired at troops. But the soldiers managed to subdue them and round them up, said the two men who spoke on condition of anonymity because the issue is sensitive.

Usman said military operations continue in the forest where the women and girls were rescued while troops destroyed four Boko Haram camps.

“Sambisa Forest is a large expanse of land, so what we were able to get is four out of several terrorist camps in the forest,” he said of the area that sprawls over 23,170 square miles.

Nigeria’s military largely stood by last year as Boko Haram took over dozens of towns and declared a large swath of northeastern Borno state an Islamic caliphate.

That changed when a multinational offensive led by Chad began at the end of January. Now, Nigeria’s military says it has driven the Islamic extremists out of all towns with help from troops from Chad and Niger while Cameroonian soldiers have been guarding their borders to prevent the militants from escaping.

Scores of abducted girls, women and men have been freed or escaped from Boko Haram in the process. It is not known how many were abducted by Boko Haram, which used them as sex slaves and fighters.

A month ago the Nigerian military began pounding the Sambisa Forest in air raids, an assault they said earlier they had been avoiding for fear of killing kidnapped women and girls, or inciting their captors to kill them.

Boko Haram continues to attack isolated communities. The government of neighboring Niger said a Boko Haram attack on Karamga island in Lake Chad over the weekend killed 156 militants, 46 soldiers and 28 civilians.