Dakar, Senegal — The militant group Boko Haram has haunted northern Nigeria for years by kidnapping, looting, carrying out suicide bombings and other atrocities that have spread to the nation’s capital, even across the country’s borders.
The militants kidnapped scores of girls from a secondary school in an event that captured the world’s attention last year and prompted a #BringBackOurGirls campaign on social media that enlisted the American first lady, Michelle Obama.
On Tuesday, the Nigerian military said it had freed more than 300 kidnapping victims, most of them women and children, in a rescue operation in a remote forested area that killed at least 30 Boko Haram fighters. A news release from the military that said eight men, 138 women and 192 children had been rescued and that weapons and ammunition had been confiscated.
While this news would come as a huge relief to the people of Nigeria and beyond, it is difficult to verify. The militants operate in a secluded region and officials in the nearest major city, Maiduguri, in northeastern Nigeria, were unable to confirm the rescue.
The Nigerian military has made rescue claims in the past that have proved impossible to verify. However, with a new president, Muhammadu Buhari, in office and new leadership of the military, information has been expected to be more reliable.
Several experts on Nigeria and Boko Haram were skeptical about the military’s assertions on Wednesday, saying the announcement could be part of a propaganda war, or mere fiction offered as a morale lift for citizens worn down by the devastating tactics of the militants. On Tuesday night, for example, Boko Haram was accused of looting and burning a village in southeastern Niger near the Nigerian border, killing 14 people, according to Reuters.
“The trust issue comes from a legacy of poor communication from the armed forces over Boko Haram activity,” said Elizabeth Donnelly, assistant head of the Africa program for Chatham House, an independent policy research group in London, and an expert on Boko Haram.
She said Boko Haram had been roaming through rural parts of the nation that prove easy places for the militants to operate.
“The fact of the matter is, there are a lot of people being held,” Ms. Donnelly said. “It’s not unlikely the military is coming across people” it can free as it hunts Boko Haram.
According to Amnesty International, more than 17,000 people have been killed in Boko Haram attacks, 1,600 of them in the last four months alone. President Obama said recently that he planned to send 300 troops to Cameroon to help fight the group.