Nigerian soldiers. (File Photo: AFP)
Nigerian forces have killed 78 gunmen, known locally as bandits, during military operations including air strikes in northwestern Zamfara state, the air force said.
Heavily-armed bandits have wracked northwest and central Nigeria for years, but the groups have recently stepped up attacks on schools, kidnapping hundreds of students for ransom and prompting a military response.
"On 2 August 2021, Nigerian Air Force... locked on armed bandits on bikes moving into Kwiambana Forest Reserves (in Zamfara state)... over 78 bandits were neutralized, and their camps destroyed," air force spokesman Edward Gabkwet said in a statement late on Thursday.
The bandits were tracked to "extensive and well concealed camps with numerous huts" that were destroyed by the air force, the statement added, "in liaison with ground troops forming blocking forces around the targeted areas of the forest."
The air force said surviving bandits escaped and abandoned the camp.
The air force used the Alpha Jet fighter and attack helicopters to bombard the bandit camp, the statement said.
The Nigerian military first deployed to the area in 2016 and a peace deal with bandits was signed in 2019 but attacks on communities have continued.
Violence linked to these groups is just one of the challenges facing President Muhammadu Buhari's security forces, who are also battling a more than decade-long jihadist insurgency in the northeast and separatist agitation in the southeast.
Last month, heavily-armed gangs shot down an air force Alpha Jet over Zamfara although the pilot safely ejected and evaded capture.
On July 22, the air force said it had received the first six out of 12 Super Tucano light-attack turboprops from the United States.