December 2, 2015 / 1:21 PM / 2 years ago

UPDATE 2-Cameroon says frees 900 Boko Haram hostages in military raid

* Over 100 militants killed in November sweep operation - army

* Hostages thought to be residents of border villages

* Strike will not halt broader insurgency - analyst (Adds details from army sources, quotes from analyst, context throughout)

By Anne Mireille Nzouankeu and Sylvain Andzongo

YAOUNDE, Dec 2 (Reuters) - Cameroon’s army says it has killed at least 100 members of the militant Islamist Boko Haram group and freed 900 people the group had held hostage as it seeks to strike back after a series of attacks in the West African country.

Cameroon is part of an 8,700-strong regional task force also comprising troops from Chad, Niger, Nigeria and Benin that has pledged to destroy Boko Haram, which though based mainly in Nigeria has become a major threat to wider regional security.

Army spokesman Colonel Didier Badjeck said troops had conducted a sweep operation between November 26-28 along Cameroon’s long border with its western neighbour Nigeria.

They captured arms and flags from Islamic State, to whom Boko Haram pledged allegiance in March, and killed a senior militant called Al hadji Gana, he said.

Other military sources in Cameroon confirmed that a military operation had taken place, although one senior army source expressed surprise at its scale.

“The BIR (rapid intervention brigade) did a sweep operation on six villages in Mayo Sava,” said the source, referring to a district of the Far North Region.

The hostages were residents of those villages who had been “taken prisoner” by that group, adding that a large number of them had been handed over to a camp for the displaced.

It was not clear if they included any of the 200 schoolgirls seized by the militants in their dormitories last year in Chibok, Nigeria, about 50 kilometres west of the border.

“An operation like this may have hit one cell but that does not create a major problem for Boko Haram’s ability to execute attacks in other areas,” said Ryan Cummings, chief analyst for Africa at crisis management company red24.

Cameroon has suffered regular cross-border attacks in its Far North Region, including twin suicide blasts overnight that killed at least three people in the town of Waza.

Suicide bombings, often carried out by young women recruited by the militant group, are becoming almost daily occurrences in the Far North region. The government denies that Boko Haram holds any territory in Cameroon.

Cameroon’s army spokesman said its forces acted with the backing of the regional task force, which became operational in August but has yet to launch joint raids.

However, an army officer in Nigeria, which is leading the force, denied knowledge of the operation.

Cummings said the Lake Chad countries would have to execute coordinated military strikes if they want to make significant progress against Boko Haram.

“If they act alone, they are just going to push the militants over someone else’s border,” he said. (Additional reporting by Camillus Eboh in Abuja; Additional reporting and writing by Emma Farge; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

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