MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (Reuters) - Nigerian troops killed 74 members of Boko Haram in an air and ground assault, the military said on Friday, a further sign of stepped up operations against the Islamist sect.
The offensive on Thursday targeted Boko Haram camps in the remote villages of Galangi and Lawanti in northeast Borno state where the militants have their strongest presence.
“The operation, which involved ground and aerial assault supported by the Nigerian Air Force led to the destruction of the identified terrorist camps, killing 74 terrorists while others fled with serious injuries,” Lieutenant Colonel Mohammed Dole said in a statement.
Dole said two soldiers were wounded. The Nigerian military has in the past played down its own losses and those of civilians, security experts say.
The army said it had killed 37 Islamists in a similar strike last week in another remote area of Borno.
Nigerian forces have intensified attacks against Boko Haram since May, when President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in three states in the northeast.
Boko Haram is fighting to establish an Islamic state in religiously mixed Nigeria. While the offensive against it appears to have scattered the movement, it has also seen reprisal attacks against civilians suspected of cooperating with the authorities.
Thousands have been killed since the sect launched its uprising against the state in 2009, turning itself from a clerical movement opposed to Western culture into an armed militia with links to al Qaeda’s West African wing.
The group is seen as the biggest security threat to Africa’s top oil producer. Although their activities are located hundreds of miles away from its southern oil fields, they have bombed the capital Abuja at least three times, including a deadly attack on the United Nations’ Nigeria headquarters in 2011.
Reporting by Lanre Ola; Writing by Joe Brock; Editing by Janet Lawrence