Boko Haram’s seizure of a key town and military base in Nigeria’s far northeast has tightened its grip on the region, undermining efforts to tackle the insurgency, experts say.
The capture of Baga and the headquarters of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) now means the Islamists control all three of Borno state’s borders with Niger, Chad and Cameroon.
Analysts said that as a result, the militants were in a better position to launch fresh attacks both within Nigeria, including against the key city of Maiduguri, and across borders.
“The capture of Baga is of enormous significance,” Abdullahi Bawa Wase, a Nigerian security analyst who tracks the Boko Haram conflict, told AFP.
“It has put a lie to the Nigerian government claim that it is on top of the situation. It is a serious symptom of defeat on the side of the government.”
Boko Haram has had Baga in its sights for months, as it was said to be one of the last towns in northern Borno under federal government control.
The militants have seized more than two dozen towns in northeast Nigeria in the last six months in their quest to establish a hardline Islamic state.
With Baga the latest to fall, Boko Haram has effectively encircled the Borno state capital, Maiduguri, where it was founded in 2002 and which has been repeatedly attacked.
Analysts assessed that the group’s control of border areas potentially secures it important supply lines for weapons as well as a wider recruitment base to replenish its ranks.
“Their next move is predictable, which is expanding their territory southwards,” said Wase.
Nigeria’s highest ranking military officer, Chief of Defence Staff Alex Badeh, told reporters on Tuesday that Baga can be recaptured, although he refused to give a time frame for any counter-offensive.
Asked whether the town can be retaken, he said only: “Why not?”
But getting it back could be a struggle, with Boko Haram likely to be boosted by a victory against a multi-national force.