Special Forces commandos of Cameroon’s Rapid Intervention Battalion
19 June, 2014
by Alex Crawford (Special Correspondent)
The Nigerian-born Islamic militant group Boko Haram is terrorising communities inside neighbouring Cameroon and snatching young boys from across the border and forcing them to join the sect.We saw abandoned villages and burned-out schools inside Cameroon, despite the presence of hundreds of troops including some of the country’s top soldiers from the elite rapid response unit Battalion D’Intervention Rapide (BIR).
The huge 1,243-mile(2,000km) border with Nigeria is mostly unmanned and un-policed, allowing Boko Haram to cross over and mount attacks inside Cameroon with horrifying regularity.Soldiers from the BIR are desperately trying to stop the spread of Boko Haram in their country.But the sect, which appears to be trying to create an Islamic fundamentalist belt across West Africa, continues to wreak terror and destruction all along the border.
Nigeria has accused Cameroon of not doing enough and has said Boko Haram fighters and leaders are using the country as a safe haven. But the country’s military leaders insist that is not the case.
Cameroon Defence Ministry spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Badjeck told us: “They are not in Cameroon. Why would we allow that? This is bad for Cameroon.”We are suffering, too, at the hands of Boko Haram.” He said the country may have reacted slowly to the Boko Haram threat but had reacted as soon as they realised it was growing and encroaching into Cameroon. There are now hundreds of troops including those from the elite BIR unit, in the north.
The border lines are often difficult to decipher with no markings or obvious difference between the two countries. In the town of Amchide, the border cuts right through the town with roughly two-thirds of the town under Nigerian control and the remaining third in Cameroon territory. We were with the elite unit as soldiers patrolled through the town and up to a rope across the road which signalled the end of Cameroon land. About 100 metres away, some Nigerian soldiers cheerily greeted their counterparts.There appears to be much more cordial relations on the ground among the foot soldiers than there is between their respective political masters.
In other communities, the villagers told us how Boko Haram militants stormed in during the day, trying to snatch young boys to add to their recruits. One young lad told us how he was approached by the militants as he worked in the fields.They at first tried to persuade him to join them.When he refused,the situation turned ugly but somehow he managed to run away.
The eyes of the world are on Syria and Iraq at the moment as the Islamic militants there shock with their brutal attempts to wrestle control of swathes of both countries. But according to the Cameroon military, the Islamic militants of Boko Haram are fighting a similar terror campaign in West Africa.The sect is spreading across the northeast of its own country but also spilling over into its neighbours.
Cameroon, with its long, unchecked border, is possibly most vulnerable. And so far, despite the attempts of even some of its top soldiers,the Boko Haram fighters, far from being defeated, appear to be growing in strength and numbers.