Cameroon under pressure from Boko Haram
Cameroon’s military are battling cross-border raids by Nigeria’s militant Islamist group Boko Haram, as the BBC’s Thomas Fessy found out when he joined soldiers on a patrol.
A soldier is standing on the back of a flatbed pick-up truck leading the convoy.
His high-powered twin-barrelled gun is turned towards Nigeria. In reality, though, the weapon is aimed at what Boko Haram call their “caliphate”, or Islamic state.
The border village of Amchide is mostly deserted. Only a handful of people can be seen as we drive through.
They are hastily throwing a few belongings on a cart as they prepare to leave. They probably did not have time to take anything when they fled during an attack, and came back to recover their possessions.
The dusty road is the line that the militants keep crossing on almost a daily basis now, attacking the villages and Cameroonian army positions.
“Every day, there are gunshots,” a Cameroonian commander says.
He explains that the situation is so tense that he would rather stay anonymous.
“They are there; they are turning, watching, trying to know what we are doing and how we can react. It’s unpredictable. Boko Haram is like a ghost.”
‘Not our war’
The strain is tangible. Cameroon’s elite Rapid Intervention Battalion, commonly known by its French acronym BIR, has lost dozens of men since the beginning of the year in the fight against Boko Haram.
About 1,000 men from BIR, trained by US and Israeli forces, have been deployed along a 500-km (300- mile) stretch of porous border with Nigeria.
Boko Haram is advancing and Cameroon’s military fight daily battles to keep the boundary with Nigeria – Africa’s most populous state – intact.
Cameroon’s military recently dispatched another 2,000 soldiers to the border region to reinforce troops.
Last month, Boko Haram attacked the military post at Amchide with a tank.
A car bomb exploded a few metres away minutes before the tank stormed the gate of the Cameroonian base. The tank’s charred remains are still to be seen outside the military post.
Cameroonian soldiers complain that they have been left to fight a war which started in another country on their own.
On the other side of the front line, the Nigerian army has fled.
“And the French, where are the French?” an army officer bitterly asks, referring to the French counter-terrorism force commanded from Ndjamena, the capital of Chad, only a few hundred kilometres to the north-east.