Cameroon's military has reportedly freed at least 24 hostages kidnapped Sunday in northern Cameroon by Boko Haram. The militants crossed the border from Nigeria and seized more than 60 people — including children — around the village of Mabass.
The attack came a day after Chad deployed troops to combat Islamist insurgents in neighboring Cameroon, including a convoy of 400 armored vehicles and several combat helicopters. The Chadian army will be stationed in the northernmost region of Lake Chad, the large, shallow body of water that separates Chad from Cameroon. The lake also borders Nigeria, where Boko Haram currently controls roughly 18,000 square miles of territory.
In a speech to parliament last week, Chadian President Idriss Déby said the military intervention is intended to help Cameroon, which has been feeling increasingly vulnerable in the face of intensified Boko Haram attacks in the north of the country.
Cameroon's President Paul Biya announced the military campaign Thursday but did not specify how many Chadian troops would be involved. Cameroon's communications minister, Issa Tchiroma Bakary, said the country "welcomed" Chad's intervention.
According to France's RFI, Bakary described the Chadian mobilization as, "concrete proof of the solidarity, of the perfect harmony between two heads of states, whose people are friends, and who are economically interdependent."
A video uploaded Monday by France 24 shows the people of Kousseri, a Cameroonian village along the Chadian, border greeting incoming troops Saturday.
In May 2013, the heads of state of Benin, Cameroon, Chad, France, Niger, and Nigeria gathered in Paris to participate in the Summit for Security in Nigeria. At the meeting — also attended by representatives of the European Union, United Kingdom, and United States — the countries vowed to cooperate to strengthen a regional campaign against Boko Haram.
Thousands of people marched Saturday in N'Djamena, the capital of Chad, in support of the government's decision to deploy troops. Following the march, Déby called on members of the Economic Community of Central African States to form "a large coalition to combat" the insurgency.
"This morning's march sends a strong signal, a warning to Boko Haram," Chadian Prime Minister Kalzeubet Pahimi Deubet said. "Above all it is a march for peace, to protect our vital interests, our economy, to protect the security of Chad."
Philippe Hugon, a research director at the Institute for International and Strategic Relations (IRIS), said the January 7 massacre in Baga prompted Chad to deploy troops.
"Boko Haram has always carried out horrific massacres, but never before on this scale," Hugon told VICE News. "It imperative to stop them from declaring a caliphate and carving out an Islamist state."
Chad is also seeking to curb the influx of Nigerian refugees fleeing from the northeastern Nigerian state of Borno. According to the UN's refugee agency, Chad now houses more than 10,000 Nigerian refugees who fled Boko Haram.
Chad's president has also stated he wants to take back Boko Haram strongholds in the Lake Chad region.
Hugon said Chadian boots on the ground could be a turning point in the fight against the armed insurgents. He described Chad's army as one of the most "efficient" in Africa.
Over the past 15 years, Chad has strengthened its military capacity to stave off potential attacks from neighboring Sudan. The countries have clashed several times since Chad obtained independence from France in 1960.
Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chad's minister of foreign affairs, told VICE News that the country chose to intervene for several reasons, including its geographic proximity to Nigeria and Cameroon. Characterizing the threat of Boko Haram as "initially, a domestic problem for Nigeria," Faki Mahamat explained that "Chad is a landlocked country, and our exit routes are Nigeria and Cameroon."
"Considering the nature of the threat, [considering] we're facing a group that targets civilians indiscriminately — including women and children — we decided to intervene," he said, adding that Chad hoped "others would join us to fight this sect."
Follow Mélodie Bouchaud on Twitter @Meloboucho
Photo via Wikimedia Commons