Troops of the 133 Special Forces Battalion of the Army have killed five suspected militants as Operation Crocodile Smile got underway in the Niger Delta at the weekend.
Twenty three other suspects were arrested, the Acting Director, Army Public Relations, Col. Sani Usman, said.
The operation which was flagged off by the Chief of Army Staff Lt. Gen Tukur Buratai, is aimed at getting rid of all forms of criminal activities in the region.
Meanwhile, there was tension in the Niger Delta region at the weekend following special military drills on the first day of Operation Crocodile Smile (OCM). This is coming as the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) yesterday named Nobel laureate Prof Wole Soyinka, former Abia State governor Orji Kalu and others as members of its panel to dialogue with the federal government.
The operation was designed by the military to equip the amphibious and internal security operations in the riverine areas against the activities of Niger Delta militants.
It is also designed to train Special Forces, formations and units located in the region.
It is said to comprise both strategy perfection and public confidence building.
Col. Usman said yesterday that in the course of the operation, some militants attacked the troops who then responded and succeeded in killing five of them. “Numerous others were injured and 23 suspects were arrested,” he said.
The operation was carried out by the Special Forces at the militants’ camps.
The army spokesperson said items recovered from the camps include two AK-47 rifles, 11 Pump Action Guns, a locally made revolver pistol, 292 cartridges of live Ammunition, 199 rounds of AK-47 rifle Ammunition, four electricity generating sets and a Camp Gas Cooker.
The troops also recovered an abandoned Engine Boat left by the fleeing militants.
Usman had said on Friday that ‘Exercise Crocodile Smile’ was not all about guns and boats.
He said that apart from the training aspect of it, the Army’s Medical Corps was involved in medical in Sapele, Delta State.
He said:”It will be recalled that we have shown you the massing up of the troops yesterday (Thursday).Today (Friday), the buildup of logistics has commenced.
“The human side of the ongoing exercise includes free medical outreach for Sapele communities in Delta.
“The Nigerian Army Medical Corps has fully deployed to the area attending to medical needs of the communities free of charge.”
It was gathered the Operation Crocodile Smile has resulted in massive deployment of troops to the creeks of the Niger Delta through the Sapele waterways.
Residents reported witnessing many military gunboats, war-kitted soldiers and other maritime military hardware moving into the creeks.
The deployment was said to have created apprehension among residents of the riverine communities causing an atmosphere of a siege.
The President of the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) Worldwide, Udengs Eradiri, said he has been inundated with complaints of people scampering for safety and fleeing into the forest on sighting the troops.
He argued that in the spirits of the ongoing dialogue to resolve the crisis in the region, the federal government ought to have called off all military operations in the Niger Delta.
He said it amounted to insincerity on the part of the government to be demanding dialogue while conducting an exercise to launch a major military operation in the region at the same time.
Eradiri insisted that any form of military action in the region could jeopardise efforts of leaders such as Chief Edwin Clark to stop the crisis.
He said: “The EK Clark Committee has brought all Niger Delta leaders together. The MEND and the avengers support them. The other day, the Minister for Petroleum, Ibe Kachukwu met with them again.
“The unfortunate fact is whether government is sincere in this whole business. How can the military within the period announced that they are carrying out an exercise in the Niger Delta?
“As at yesterday night, there was this rumour that they were going to attack Gbaramatu and the entire community started scampering into the forest because soldiers were seen mobilising in Sapele.
“When we asked, they said the military had met the governor and said they wanted to do a two-week drill in Niger Delta. It is wrong. They should suspend any form of activity because there is an interpretation of a sinister motive in their activities.”
A statement by Ballatyne Agiri, contact person for the East and Central zones of the Niger Delta Avengers said Soyinka will serve as adviser to the committee.
Other members of the committee are Professor Steve Odi Owei Etibom, Dr. Anthony A. Ani, Nalaguo Chris Alagoa, Mrs. Alice Mobolaji Osomo and Mr. Inienimi Ballantyne Agiri.