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Cameroon Launches First Airstrike Against Boko Haram Militants

Cameroon’s air force has bombed Boko Haram positions after the group overran a military base and attacked five villages.
Photo via AP

Cameroon's air force killed dozens of Boko Haram militants entering from neighboring Nigeria this week after launching its first airstrikes against the group, which has recently attacked five villages and briefly occupied a military base in the north of the country.

According to Radio France Internationale, close to 1,000 Islamic militants stormed the Achigachia military base in north Cameroon at 4am on Sunday, forcing the retreat of Cameroonian troops. For a period of time the militants' black flag was seen floating over the base. The attack soon triggered the deployment of fighter jets, which prompted the Boko Haram fighters to flee back into Nigeria, where they sought refuge in a former Nigerian army compound.

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Boko Haram — which loosely translates roughly as "Western education is forbidden" — has been multiplying attacks along the border and increasing its incursions into Cameroon. According to the BBC, some 2,000 Nigerian civilians have been killed this year by the group, which is also responsible for the abduction of hundreds of schoolgirls in Nigeria this spring.

No official figures have yet been released, but according to sources, eight Cameroonian troops were reportedly killed in the attack. Meanwhile, Cameroon's government has claimed its army killed 41 Boko Haram militants. The death toll on both sides may still rise.

In a statement released Sunday, Cameroonian officials said the strikes comprised "a new intensity of reprisal in the face of increased […] enemy attacks by Boko Haram terrorists." According to the statement, the order for Cameroon's first ever airstrike against the group came directly from Cameroon President Paul Biya.

This is not the first instance in which Boko Haram has targeted Cameroon's army. On October 15, around 100 of the group's militants stormed a military base, and on December 17, Cameroon claimed to have killed 116 Boko Haram fighters after a cross-border raid.

To counter this new spate of attacks in Cameroon, the government has set up a special unit called the Rapid Intervention Battalion, whose members are trained by Israeli forces.

Cameroon has faced mounting criticism for failing to act against Boko Haram. According to reports, thousands of Cameroonians are being forced to flee the border regions and seek refuge in the center of the country. In neighboring Nigeria, 14,960 refugees have been displaced from the east by violence and instability, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Cameroon has been stepping up its efforts to prevent the abduction and recruitment of children. Last week the government announced it had dismantled a Boko Haram training camp, seizing 84 children aged 7 to 15.

Follow Mélodie Bouchaud on Twitter @meloboucho