After carrying out a mass rescue of 200 girls and 93 women from the forest stronghold of an Islamic insurgent group, Nigeria’s military is evacuating the females and plans to check their physical and mental health, an army spokesman has said.
Colonel Sani Usman said many are traumatised and the military is flying in medical and intelligence teams to examine them.
He added that it remained to be seen if any were among the 219 who are still missing more than a year after being snatched from a boarding school in Chibok, a town in north-east Nigeria.
The evacuation from the Sambisa Forest in north-east Nigeria began on Tuesday but Col Usman would not say where the rescued women and girls are being taken. He said the victims’ identities had yet to be ascertain.
“The processing is continuing, it involves a lot of things because most of them are traumatised and you have got to put them in a psychological frame of mind to extract information from them,” Col Usman said.
While the Chibok kidnapping on April 14, 2014, made the extremist group Boko Haram known to much of the world, the group has been steadily kidnapping females.
Amnesty International said this month that at least 2,000 women and girls have been abducted by Boko Haram since the start of 2014 and many have been forced into sexual slavery and trained to fight.
Of the women and girls who were rescued in recent days, an intelligence officer and a soldier said Boko Haram used some of them as armed human shields, a first line of defence that fired at troops. But the soldiers managed to subdue them and round them up, they added.
“Sambisa Forest is a large expanse of land, so what we were able to get is four out of several terrorist camps in the forest,” he said of the area that sprawls over 60,000 square kilometres.
Nigeria’s military largely stood by last year as Boko Haram took over dozens of towns and declared a large swath of north-eastern Borno state an Islamic caliphate.
That changed when a multinational offensive led by Chad began at the end of January. Now, Nigeria’s military says it has driven the Islamic extremists out of all towns with help from troops from Chad and Niger while Cameroonian soldiers have been guarding their borders to prevent the militants from escaping.