By Madu Onuorah (Abuja), Laolu Akande (New York), Karls Tsokar (Abuja), Victoria Ojugbana (Lagos) and Njadvara Musa (Maiduguri)

• Soldiers rescue more women, children from Sambisa forest, kill terrorists’ leaders
• Obama releases $35 million to France to fight Boko Haram, leaving out Nigeriarescued hostages

From Madu Onuorah (Abuja), Laolu Akande (New York), Karls Tsokar (Abuja), Victoria Ojugbana (Lagos) and Njadvara Musa (Maiduguri) President Goodluck Jonathan has pledged to liberate all Nigerian territories held by the Boko Harm sect before the May 29 hand over of power to the President-elect, Muhammadu Buhari.

The promise came two days after 293 girls and women were rescued from the Sambisa forest, The President said this when he received a delegation of heads of Customs from the West and Central African Region of the World Customs Organisation, led by the Secretary-General of the organisation, Mr. Kunio Mikuriya. Jonathan said he was determined to hand over a country completely free of terrorist strongholds to Buhari.

According to him, the ongoing military operations in the Northeast has already recorded huge successes, with two states completely free from the control of terrorists, while operations in the third state had reached a concluding stage.

A statement from the office of his spokesman, Reuben Abati, last night in Abuja, quoted the President as saying, “We can now say two states are completely free from terrorist control, while in the third state, it is only in one Local Government Area that they are still present; that is, in the Sambisa Forest.”

This came as Nigerian troops, yesterday, killed hundreds of Boko Haram insurgents in hours of gun battle. One soldier died, while four others were injured as the terrorists battled in vain to retain nine major camps in the dreaded forest in Borno State.

Meanwhile, the United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education, Gordon Brown, has welcomed the rescue of the girls from captivity and called for immediate release of other abducted girls.

“It is time to end the nightmare,” said Brown, who was billed to have talks with the President-elect, Muhammadu Buhari, yesterday. “For a year, the families have not known whether their daughters are dead or alive, married off, sold off or violated as a result of their captivity.

Now that some girls have been released, we want all the girls released.” Brown said: “I will talk to President-elect Buhari about how the international community can provide air and military help to free the girls.

“I will also offer help for safe schools which allow girls to participate in education, free of fear. 
 We need more secure, better-prepared safe schools to make girls and parents know that everything is being done to protect them.”

Acting Director, Army Public Relations, Colonel Sani Usman, in a statement, said two major combat tanks and high calibre ammunitions used by the Boko Haram terrorists were recovered, while many others were destroyed.

“I wish to inform you that today (Wednesday) evening, troops of 7 Division, Nigerian Army also cleared several terrorists strong points and training camps within Sambisa forest, Borno State, Nigeria,” the statement reads in part.

“The troops have also rescued additional women and children. They have been evacuated to a safety zone for further processing. During the encounter unfortunately, we lost a soldier, while four others were wounded in action.

The troops have also killed several Boko Haram field commanders and foot soldiers and destroyed two Armoured Personnel Carriers, two Buffalo vehicles mounted with Anti-Aircraft Guns, a truck and several Hilux vehicles.

“The gallant soldiers also recovered one Anti-Aircraft Gun, one General Purpose Machine Gun, one Rocket Propelled Grenade and several AK-47 rifles.

Sadly, one woman died and eight other women sustained gun shot wounds. “So far, the troops have destroyed nine terrorist camps in the forest. This is in addition to the four destroyed yesterday.

The destroyed camps include Wulari Bukar, Gangala, Anguwar Bakwai, Jigide. Kotorima, Lagara Bello and Lagara Fulani. “I am glad to say that troops’ morale is very high as they are poised to accomplish the task of destroying all terrorists camps and rescuing all those held hostage by the terrorists.”

Also briefing newsmen yesterday in Abuja on the rescue operations in the Sambisa Forest, the Director, Defence Information, Maj-Gen. Chris Olukolade, disclosed that more hostages were being rescued from six additional villages. On the screening of the hostages, Olukolade said:

“The true identity of some of the rescued women and girls are yet to be ascertained, as more hostages were being rescued Wednesday evening before this briefing.

At the moment, what is upper most and of priority is their movement to a conducive place where they are now undergoing thorough profiling to verify their true identity, where they come from, how they found themselves in the forest, etc.

“Additional number of persons is still being recovered from Sambisa Forest. Until such comprehensive profiling is done, nobody can confirm whether they are among the Chibok girls or not.”

The Borno State Commissioner of Information, Dr. Mohammed Bulama, however, told The Guardian yesterday in Maiduguri that all the hostages rescued on Tuesday, were from Damboa Local Government Area in Gumsiri community severally attacked by insurgents in 2013 and early this year. On whether more hostages are to be rescued, Gen. Olukolade said:

“The most important thing is that Nigerians held captive under very severe and inhuman condition have been freed by our gallant troops. The joy and sense of hope being expressed by many Nigerians on hearing about the rescue operation is therefore understandable.

We would like to reassure them that the momentum of this operation would be sustained until that Sambisa Forest is comprehensively cleaned out and all Nigerians held captive within the bowels of the forest are rescued. There is great hope for the recovery of more hostages of the terrorists.

“Already, the dislodged and disorganized terrorists are in flight in different directions and running helter-skelter in the expansive forest. There is no longer any respite or sanctuary for them; they will be pursued and tracked down not minding the daunting challenges in the mission including hundreds of land mines and difficult terrain of the Sambisa forest.”

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama is supporting the battle against Boko Haram in Nigeria’s neighboring countries with a $35m worth of military and defense support services to France, which has been backing the military of the French-speaking nations of Chad, Niger and Mali.

But this specific and new support from the US just announced by the White House did not mention Nigeria, which has been worst hit by the terrorist activities, raising questions in diplomatic circles whether, or not, this is a fallout of the strain developed lately between Nigeria and the US regarding how to best confront the Boko Haram menace.

Speaking off the record yesterday morning, a US government official simply told The Guardian that the $35m funding is in support of French operations, which are not taking place in Nigeria.

But last week in New York at the Time magazine Influential100 people gala, top US government officials, including Dr. Samantha Powers, promised that the US would do more to support the search for the Chibok girls and the fight against Boko Haram in Nigeria.

A press statement from the White House late on Wednesday revealed that the US President has approved up to $35m to provide assistance to France, which has been actively supporting Nigeria’s French speaking neighbors —Niger and Chad — in their fight against Boko Haram, as well as terrorist and Islamic extremism in Mali.

In the White House statement titled, “Delegation of Authority Under Section 506(a)(1) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961,” President Obama gave authority to US Secretary of State Senator John Kerry to facilitate the US assistance to Mali, Niger and Chad, significantly omitting Nigeria, where terror attacks has been worst in West Africa in recent times. According to the US president:

“By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, including section 301 of title 3, United States Code, I hereby delegate to the Secretary of State the authority under section 506(a)(1) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 to direct the drawdown of up to $35 million in defense services of the Department of Defense to provide assistance to France in its efforts to secure Mali, Niger, and Chad from terrorists and violent extremists, and to make the determinations required under such section to direct such a drawdown.

US-Nigeria relationship on Boko Haram has been rocky leading the Nigerian Ambassador to the US to openly state that the American government has not given Nigeria the needed support, especially in the area of weapons. Indeed, the US government denied Nigeria the sales of US-made Cobra fighter-helicopters.

Newly available information now has revealed that the sales was coming from Israel which had okayed the sales from its own inventory, but needed US approval since the fighter-helicopters were from America.

The Israeli government under the terms of the US assistance cannot transfer the military helicopter to another foreign country except the US government says it is okay. Besides, a US military training of a unit of the Nigerian military was also abruptly ended late last yea, as the Americans said Nigeria asked for the training to stop.

Earlier in the week, the US State Department issued a statement condemning the killing of 48 security officials of Niger by Boko Haram terrorists, and the White House statement came less than 48 hours after that State Department condemnation of the terror attack that took place recently on the Karamga Island in Lake Chad.

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