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Upbeat Mood at the War Front

The atmosphere was tense but not gloomy when on Monday, February 16, 2015, some national and international media practitioners converged at the military command headquarters of “Operation ALPHA” in Maroua. After receiving a phone call, Colonel Nouma Joseph, Commander of “Operation ALPHA” revealed details of an attack by Boko Haram militants that morning in a village situated five kilometres from Waza. “Our forces have repelled the enemy and inflicted heavy casualties,” he said. “The attack has not only been contained but we have captured an important arsenal of arms and ammunitions.”

To verify these details, we boarded a military helicopter. Destination, Waza in the Logone et Chari Division. The pilot flew at tree–top level; at times avoiding hilltops by a whisker. And after 30 minutes, we landed at Waza where we were received by the Deputy Commander of “Operation ALPHA” in the zone, Captain Ndema Williams. Surrounded by his hardened fighters, he still appeared combat-ready and in an upbeat mood despite previous hours of fighting against enemy forces.

Indicating the location of the fighting, he said Cameroonian forces killed 94 Boko Haram fighters, lost five men and destroyed and captured diverse ammunitions belonging to the enemy. “Farmers informed us that they discovered eight more corpses of the assailants in the fields,” the Captain added. As evidence, we saw a captured Boko Haram armoured personnel carrier which bore the inscription “PMF Training College Goza” in Nigeria.

Pools of blood and spent cartridges cluster the front seat while gapping bullet holes, all over carrier, attest the violent combat that took place involving heavy and long rang artillery.

Hotbeds of Tension

As the Cameroonian army intensifies its counter–insurgency efforts as part of a regional initiative to defeat Boko Haram, the Waza ambush of February 16, 2015 is not an isolated incident. The three worst affected Divisions that straddle the porous 400 kilometres of the border with Nigeria namely: Mayo Tsanaga, Mayo Sava and Logone et Chari witnessed and continue to record almost daily or weekly attacks since the retreat of Nigerian forces from the border zones and the capture of the military base at Baga in Nigeria. Cognisant of this evolving trend, Major Nlate Ebale of “Operation ALPHA” says surveillance, evaluation and cooperation with friendly countries have been stepped up. Briefing journalists, he said the army has modern equipment to wage war at day and at night.

“Morale of the troops is at its apex, we have frequent visits of officials to the war front to boost the morale of the troops and there is rotation of our forces to permit all of us to be part of the war effort,” Major Nlate Ebale noted.

Though convinced, we headed to Mabass in the Mayo–Tsanaga Division to see things for ourselves. Wearing helmets and bulletproof jackets (just in case), we met the commanding officer, Major Vouroun Paul, who vowed that never again will Boko Haram wreak havoc in the territory under his command. The frontier villages of Wandai, Ndaman, Mabass, Tourou and Ding–Ding have witnessed terror attacks from Boko Haram. The worst incident was on December 20, 2014 when the Mabass Baptist Church was burnt, villagers killed and young girls abducted to Nigeria. “Since then, in collaboration with the local vigilante committee, we have brought stability in this area. Morale is very high and we do rotate every three months to permit fresh troops to come to the frontline,” Major Vouroun Paul disclosed.

Vigilance here is the watch word and there’s no let-up in surveillance as from the hilltop of Mabass, one can easily spot the nearest Nigerian village of Madagili which lies in a valley. There’s graveyard silence in Madagili but Major Vouroun Paul warns that the silence is deceptive for the village is one of the major bastions of Boko Haram across the border. And his forces were not deterred by the close proximity of Boko Haram assailants. “We are ready for them. That’s their headquarters around here. Let them come, we are ready to defend our fatherland,” says 2nd class Army Officer Mofor Ganymed.

Unflinching Morale

This optimism is shared by his colleagues in Fotokol, in the Logone et Chari Division. On February 4, 2015 Boko Haram fighters stormed the town killing hundreds including the imam (spiritual leader) of the town. Some 33 Muslim faithful, attending morning prayers, were shot at close range. Fotokol is separated from the nearest Nigeria town of Gambarou by the EL Beid River and bridge that bears the same name. The devastating impact of the attack is harrowing in a border town with once thriving commercial activities. It’s a ghost town with houses either destroyed or gutted with bullets. Though the army has kept Boko Haram at bay, schools and stores are yet to reopen. “We are extremely determined to ensure the sovereignty of our country even if it means death. We are really motivated and we patrol the town day and night, security is henceforth assured in Fotokol. From all the four corners of the town, we have command posts and no threat can deter us from achieving our objectives,” the commanding officer, Lawane Kwene, told journalists.

It should be recalled that so far, two major operations by the command staff have permitted the preservation of Cameroon’s territorial integrity: the operations are Emergency 4 and ALPHA under the coordination of the commander of the 4th Combined Military Region (RMIA4) Colonel Jacob Kodji. On the field, some 6000 soldiers are deployed in different units to face the Boko Haram threat. For the three days that we visited the hotbeds of tension, security has been reinforced to deter Boko Haram infiltration as the Islamist sect desperately tries to create permanent instability along the borders.



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