Chad's military is in the middle a "major sweep operation" to rid the islands in Lake Chad of Boko Haram, a Chadian security source told AFP.
The Nigerian Islamist insurgency intensified its regional attacks over the weekend. In response to the group's recent incursions into Chad, the country's government has dispatched 1,000 troops as part of a plan to occupy all of Lake Chad's islands.
Lake Chad is a large, shallow lake situated in the southwest of Chad and straddling the borders of Chad, Niger, Nigeria and Cameroon. Dotted with many islands, the lake's tall grass provides an ideal cover for insurgents.
Soldiers have assisted local residents as they evacuate their islands, a source close to the authorities told the African news site Jeune Afrique. By Tuesday, the source added, 90 percent of islanders had "already reached the mainland."
No official information has yet been released concerning Chad's recent military operation on Lake Chad. When contacted by VICE News, the Chadian Interior Ministry and a government spokesman were unable to provide details of the operation in time for publication.
Local reports described Boko Haram insurgents attacking several villages on the island of Medi Koura on Saturday before being pushed back by Chadian forces. Six insurgents were reported killed in the crossfire and a further fifteen were injured. A Chadian soldier is also believed to have died in the clashes.
Boko Haram — which pledged allegiance to the so-called Islamic State in March and officially renamed itself the Islamic State Wilayat Gharb Afriqiya (Islamic State West Africa Province) — has made a point of expanding its attacks in Nigeria and neighboring countries.
According to a Chadian news site, insurgents "abducted many woman and children" as they fled Saturday's fighting, looting and setting fire to villages along the way. Some 30 islanders are currently reported missing.
Fighting resumed Monday in the lakeside town of Baga Sola, where government forces intercepted convoys of fleeing insurgents.
Thierry Vircoulon, Central Africa project director for the conflict-prevention nonprofit International Crisis Group, told VICE News that Chad is about to enter the rainy season.
"It's possible that the army wants to carry out more operations before the waters rise," he explained, adding that the area would otherwise soon become "an ideal hideout for insurgents."
Vircoulon said that Chad's army was currently fighting Boko Haram along two specific fronts — one in the capital N'Djamena, the other in the grassy channels of Lake Chad.
"Boko Haram is deeply embedded in this area," he said.
The radical Islamist insurgency has also stepped up cross-border attacks. On Saturday, a 12-year-old female suicide bomber detonated herself in a popular bar inMaroua, Cameroon, killing at least 20. On Sunday, insurgents attacked two villages in the north of Cameroon, near the Nigerian border, decapitating three villagers.
Cameroon's government announced Monday on public radio that 2,000 security forces — mainly police officers — would be deployed in the north of the country to hunt Boko Haram cells.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari is due to meet Cameroonian President Paul Biya on Wednesday to discuss the fight against the long-running insurgency.
Buhari has called for a strong regional force to contain the Islamist movement, pinning his hopes on the Multi-National Joint Task Force. This cross-regional detachment will be staffed by 8,700 troops from Cameroon, Nigeria, Chad, Niger, and Benin, and is expected to become operational on July 30.
Watch the VICE News documentary Chad's Fight Against Boko Haram:
Follow Pierre-Louis Caron on Twitter : @pierrelouis_c Aerial view of Lake Chad via Google Maps