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Cameroon: Army raid kills 100 Boko Haram fighters, frees 900 hostages

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REUTERS/Bayo Omoboriowo

(Read caption) Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari(L) walks on a red carpet with Cameroon's President Paul Biya(R) as he arrives on an official visit to Cameroon in Yaounde July 29, 2015.The leaders of Nigeria and Cameroon pledged on Thursday to improve the exchange of intelligence and security cooperation along their border in a bid to tackle Nigerian Islamist militant group Boko Haram.

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In a raid backed by an anti-Boko Haram task force, Cameroon’s army killed at least 100 Boko Haram fighters and freed 900 hostages on Wednesday, the army and defense ministry said.

Flags belonging to Islamic State were found in the raid, alongside an “important stock of weapons and ammunition” according to Joseph Beti Assomo, Cameroon’s minister of defense. 

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“Recently, countries in the region have been stepping up their fight against Boko Haram. And we’ve also seen how the group responded with more violence, attacking military and other soft targets,” said Al Jazeera’s Ahmed Idris.

Fighting extremism has been an uphill battle for some African countries in recent months. Last week, gunmen affiliated with Al Qaeda raided an upscale hotel in Mali, killing 22. Earlier this year, Boko Haram went after Chad in twin suicide bombings that left 27 dead. A month later, in July, another twin suicide attack killed at least 18 in Maiduguri, a city in northern Nigeria.

Despite the fact that some were able to escape, the bulk of 276 girls kidnapped at a government secretary school by Boko Haram in Chibok, Nigeria last year, have still not been found despite international efforts to locate and free the women. Nigeria, which has been struggling to combat radical insurgent groups like Boko Haram, is just one in a handful of western and central African countries, including Cameroon, Niger, Benin and Chad, in which the group operates.

Boko Haram pledged allegiance to the Islamic State’s caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in March, saying they "will hear and obey in times of difficulty and prosperity."

Boko Haram, whose name is often translated, perhaps incorrectly, as “Western education is forbidden,” is one of the world’s deadliest terrorist groups, responsible for 6,644 deaths last year, according to the Institute for Economics and Peace think tank. The group formed in the early 2000s as a radical Islamist sect in northern Nigeria’s Borno province.

“From early this year, what we have seen is the Boko Haram insurgency turning from merely a domestic national problem in Nigeria into what has truly become a significant international challenge,” Cyril Mathias, a French Army colonel based in Chad, told The Wall Street Journal.

Part of the challenge of fighting against groups like Boko Haram is the unpredictability of the attacks, which are highly organized and spontaneous. 

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But according to some, Cameroon’s latest raid is a significant step in the right direction. 

“The Boko Haram fighters are not as organized as they used to be, and training those many fighters takes time,” Aliyu Musa, an independent researcher of war and conflict studies told Al Jazeera. “[The raid] should have happened much earlier, because this terrorist group has been carrying out attacks in border regions.”