Nigeria’s military has conducted a wave of air raids on criminal gangs in the northwest of the country in an operation to halt attacks on civilians and residents, the military said.
Residents reported bombings by military jets in recent days on remote camps used by armed cattle rustlers and kidnappers in Katsina and Zamfara states.
The military has said it killed over 300 so-called “bandits” since Thursday in the bombardments but AFP could not independently verify the claims.
Nigeria’s army has frequently overplayed the impact of its operations in the past.
In a statement on Sunday, the military claimed to have “neutralized close to 200 armed bandits in multiple air strikes” on camps in Jibia and Zurmi forests over the previous two days.
Another statement on Saturday said a string of similar raids since Thursday had killed “no fewer than 135 armed bandits”.
Locals confirmed air raids in the past few days but said there was no indication of the number of casualties.
“There have been bombardments by Nigerian air force of bandits camps,” Sani Alu, who lives in the village of Gurmi in Zurmi, told AFP.
“We have been seeing jets flying deep inside the forest where the bandits are based.”
Abubakar Dan-Malam, a resident of Birnin Magaji, said “bandits” on motorcycles had been spotted seeking to flee.
“They have been hit hard by the bombings and are looking for escape routes,” Dan-Malam said.
Northwestern Nigeria has been wracked by years of insecurity involving clashes between rival communities over land, attacks by heavily-armed criminal gangs and reprisal killings by vigilante groups.
President Muhammadu Buhari last week gave the green light to an offensive after a surge of killings in his home state of Katsina on the border with Niger Republic.
The Nigerian authorities have launched repeated military operations and local peace talks to try to curb the violence in the northwest.
But so far neither strategy has succeeded in ending the violence and much of the region remains a security vacuum.
An estimated 8,000 people have been killed in the unrest since 2011 and 200,000 people displaced.