ABUJA—Chad, yesterday, sent ground troops into Nigeria for the first time, to fight Boko Haram in a sign of increased regional pressure on the Islamist rebels after weeks of surging violence.
The Chadian offensive on the town of Gamboru, which borders Cameroon, follows days of clashes with the Islamists who control vast swathes of the North East.
The action comes after the African Union last week backed a regional five-nation, 7,500-strong force to take on the extremists amid growing fears about their threat to regional security.
The nation has drawn fierce criticism for failing to hold back the insurgents, who have stepped up their campaign of terror in the run-up to presidential and parliamentary elections on February 14.
Defence spokesman Chris Olukolade denied that the presence of foreign troops on Nigerian soil compromised the country’s sovereignty.
“Nigeria’s territorial integrity remains intact,” he said, claiming national forces had “planned and are driving the present onslaught against terrorists from all fronts in Nigeria, not the Chadian forces”.
Chad’s ground intervention reflects the growing nervousness among the nation’s neighbours over the prospect of Boko Haram achieving its aim of carving out an Islamic caliphate on their borders.
The rebels have tried, in vain, to capture Maiduguri twice in the past week.
After days of airstrikes by Chadian war planes on Gamboru, Chadian armoured vehicles Tuesday rolled into the town across a bridge from the Cameroonian town of Fotokol, followed by a contingent of around 2,000 troops.
No shots were fired as they crossed the frontier after another barrage of air strikes lasting about an hour, an AFP correspondent in Fotokol witnessed.
Chadian forces have also taken up position close to Boko Haram strongholds along Nigeria’s border with Niger.