The RAF is sending three warplanes to help locate the Nigerian schoolgirls taken by an Islamist terror group, it has been reported.
Four months ago Boko Haram, which is fighting to reinstate a medieval Islamic caliphate in religiously mixed Nigeria, abducted more than 200 schoolgirls from the village of Chibok and they remain missing.
Now, three RAF Tornado GR4s outfitted with surveillance equipment are being deployed to the African nation to fly reconnaissance missions over the region the group is known to operate in.
According to the report, the mission is dependent on a nearby nation giving them permission to use a runway.
An MOD spokesman did not deny the report about the deployment of the planes, adding: ‘The UK continues to work with the U.S., France, Nigeria, its neighbours and international partners to provide advice and assistance to the Nigerian Government.
‘Together with our allies we have provided continuous surveillance support to the Nigerian authorities, including satellite imagery. We are still in discussion with partners on the deployment of further surveillance capability.’
Earlier this month suspected Islamist Boko Haram fighters have abducted dozens of boys and men from a village in northeast Nigeria, according to witnesses.
After loading them onto trucks and driving them off more 97 people are now missing.
Several witnesses who fled after the raid on Doron Baga, a sandy fishing village near the shores of Lake Chad, said militants clothed in military and police uniforms had burned several houses.
‘They left no men or boys in the place; only young children, girls and women,’ said Halima Adamu, sobbing softly and looking exhausted after a 110 mile road trip on the back of a truck to Maiduguri, capital of the northeastern state of Borno.
‘They were shouting ‘Allah Akbar’ (God is greatest), shooting sporadically. There was confusion everywhere.
‘They started parking our men and boys into their vehicles, threatening to shoot whoever disobey them. Everybody was scared.’
Boko Haram, seen as the number one security threat to Africa’s top economy and oil producer, has dramatically increased attacks on civilians in the past year, and the once-grassroots movement has rapidly lost popular support as it gets more bloodthirsty.
Its solution – kidnapping boys and forcing them to fight and abducting girls as sex slaves – is a chilling echo of Ugandan rebel Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army, which has operated in the same way in Uganda, South Sudan and central Africa for decades.
The kidnappers overpowered local vigilantes who had no support because this is no military presence there, the villagers said.
Talatu Abubakar, another villager who fled to Maiduguri, said the invaders had taunted the men for being unable to defend themselves.
He said that from his Hadeija clan alone, some 47 people were missing and feared to have been abducted.
The raid shows how mobile Boko Haram units can be.
After a military offensive in May last year broke their hold on the area around Lake Chad in the far northeast of Borno state, the rebels relocated to the south of the state, near the Cameroon border nearly 300 km (190 miles) away. Chibok, where the girls were taken from, is in this area.
Their re-appearance in the area demonstrates their ability to move across vast swathes of northeastern Nigeria without being intercepted by the military.
Nigerian forces are overstretched against a determined foe. In the past week they have fought gun battles with Boko Haram Islamists in two key towns in the south of Borno – Gwoza, the security sources said, and the garrison town of Damboa, which the militants sacked a month ago.