The military has raised an alarm that following the new onslaught by Nigerian troops to reclaim seized communities from Boko Haram terrorists in the North East, the insurgents have resorted to using women and children as human shields in order to halt or slow down the troops’ advance.
The alarm came a day after the Boko Haram captured another town, Maiha in Adamawa State.
Nigerian troops, in collaboration with Israeli and American military advisers have commenced a major offensive to reclaim Mubi and other towns from the terrorists and as at noon today, sources said the troops were advancing to Bazza, en route Gulak.
The resort to use of women as human shields as well as children as child-soldiers by Boko Haram militants in their quest to weaken military operations was said to be giving the military authorities concern.
A top security source in the North-East disclosed that the terrorists, while carrying out their recruitment, rape and kill some of the young captives who are reluctant to join them.
The source said: “In most cases, children and teenagers are forced to be in the forefront in the battle against the Nigerian troops through ambushing and suicide bombing; and there are established cases of women and children getting involved in terrorist acts like recent bombings in schools.
“On several occasions, the Nigerian military has captured small children who were forced to take up arms against the state with some of them behaving abnormally due to indoctrination and inducement through the use of hard drugs.”
The security source added: “We are being cautious in abiding by the rules of engagement even when we are aware that the militants recruit children for spying on us and pushing them to engage in hostilities against innocent citizens and the troops.
“Most of the children, especially teenagers were recruited through abduction, kidnapping and enticement with money after which they undergo brainwashing and combat training. Those that are unwilling to cooperate are punished or summarily executed.”
Reliable sources further suggested that insurgents have relied on the knowledge that Nigerian troops have a responsibility to observe strict rules of engagement and also avoid a situation whereby patriotic citizens caught in the crossfire of conflict will lose their lives.
“We have lost our men in the battle-field while we tried to avoid shooting children and teenagers who are forced to confront us. How do you expect us to arrest a child with a gun? Do we accord such an armed under-age combatant with the status of a child deserving of protection under the rules of engagement?
“It may become inevitable that some collateral damage may be recorded if we get the orders, especially because Boko Haram elements were using civilians as human shields to continue to gain undue advantages in the current battle in the North East.
“However, much as troops are determined to avoid collateral damage, it has become inevitable to be decisive with armed underage combatants and female suicide bombers with the situation degenerating by the day.
“The military will no longer tolerate a situation where insurgents use human shield to gain undue advantage especially now that majority of Nigerians have demanded that a full scale war be declared by government in response to Boko Haram,” the source declared.
Boko Haram captures another Adamawa town
Meanwhile, Boko Haram has expanded the territory it controls in Adamawa State after it overran the town of Maiha on Monday. The group had earlier renamed two towns it captured in Adamawa and Borno as part of its declared caliphate in the North-East of the country. Mubi, in Adamawa was renamed ‘Madinatul Islam’, meaning the “City of Islam,” after an October 29 invasion, while Gwoza in Borno was renamed “Darul Hikma” meaning “House of Wisdom”.
Maiha is about 25 kilometres from Mubi, the commercial town captured by the insurgents in Adamawa last week and about 200km from Yola, the state capital.
It was gathered from residents that before the town eventually fell to the insurgents, it was already a shadow of itself as commercial and social activities were paralyzed as people had deserted the town due to its proximity to Mubi.
Residents also claimed seeing many soldiers running away from the area with some of them hitch-hiking in residents’ vehicles. The soldiers reportedly told the residents that if the insurgents caught up with them, it would lead to instant death.
A fleeing resident, Kabir Musa, in a telephone interview with an online news medium, Premium Times, said “the insurgents started trooping into the town around 2:30 p.m. and engaged troops stationed at Kosha before advancing to the main town of Maiha. The soldiers, who advanced to the area in their bid to recapture Mubi, started running away as the insurgents overran the entire town.”
Another resident of the town, Garba Baba, said some fleeing soldiers begged him to assist them with civilian clothes so they would not be traced by the insurgents. The soldiers, he said, even threw their guns into the bush.
“The fleeing soldiers asked us to give them our clothes so that they can camouflage and escape from the area safely as some of them discarded their weapons in the bush. A lot of discarded weapons are currently lying in the bush,” Mr. Baba, who also fled Maiha, said.
He said the insurgents did not encounter any challenge from Nigerian troops similar to what happened when the insurgents captured Mubi.
According to him, “the insurgents did not encounter any challenge as they stormed the town in APCs and Toyota Hilux vans, firing shots into the soldiers’ directions , and chanting Allahu Akbar. The Boko Haram insurgents had ordered us not to run, saying that they were not after civilians but soldiers and other security people.”
Another resident still trapped in Maiha, Dauda Mallam, said: “Many of the residents fled into the bush, particularly soldiers. Some of them may have been killed by bullets. The insurgents also hoisted their flags in strategic places in the town.”