Nigerian army rescues hundreds of girls from Boko Haram camps

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(Reuters) -- Nigeria's army has rescued 200 girls and 93 women during a military operation to wrest back the Sambisa Forest from the Boko Haram Islamist militant group, it said on Tuesday.

Boko Haram kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls near the northern village of Chibok in April 2014, causing an international outcry. The six-year insurgency has seen thousands killed and many more abducted.

"Troops this afternoon rescued 200 girls and 93 women from Sambisa Forest. We cannot confirm if the Chibok girls are in this group," army spokesman Major General Chris Olukolade said, adding Nigerian troops had also destroyed three camps run by the militants there.

Diplomats and intelligence officials say they believed at least some of the girls were being held in the forest about 100 km (60 miles) from Chibok, although U.S. reconnaissance drones failed to find them.

The girls and women will be screened on Wednesday to determine whether they had been abducted or if they were married to the militants, one intelligence source told Reuters.

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Nigerian army rescues hundreds of girls from Boko Haram camps
Children rescued by Nigeria soldiers from captivity from Islamist extremists at Sambisa forest arrive at a camp in Yola, Nigeria, Saturday May. 2, 2015. The first group of nearly 300 Nigerian girls and women released from captivity by Boko Haram were brought by the military to the safety of a refugee camp in the country's northeast Saturday evening. More than 677 females have been released this week according to official reports, as the Nigerian military continues its campaign to push the Islamic extremists out of their last remaining strongholds in the Sambisa Forest. ( AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
Women and children rescued by Nigeria soldiers from Boko Haram extremists at Sambisa forest arrive at a refugee camp in Yola, Nigeria Saturday, May. 2, 2015. More than 677 girls and women have been released this week, as the Nigerian military continues its campaign to push the Islamic extremists out their last remaining strongholds in the Sambisa Forest. ( AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
Women and children rescued by Nigerian soldiers from Boko Haram extremists at Sambisa Forest arrive at a refugee camp by a truck in Yola, Nigeria Saturday, May 2, 2015. They were among a group of 275 people rescued from the Islamic extremists, the first to arrive at the refugee camp Saturday after a three-day journey to safety. The Nigerian military said it has rescued more than 677 girls and women and destroyed more than a dozen insurgent camps in the past week. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
A doctor attends to a malnourished child at a refugee camp in Yola, Nigeria Sunday, May 3, 2015, after being rescued from captivity by Boko Haram fighters. Their faces were gaunt with signs of malnutrition but the girls are alive and free, among a group of 275 children and women rescued by the Nigerian military, and the first to arrive at a refugee camp Saturday after a three-day journey to safety. They came from the Sambisa Forest, thought to be the last stronghold of the Islamic extremists, where the Nigerian military said it has rescued more than 677 girls and women and destroyed more than a dozen insurgent camps in the past week. ( AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
Fulani Women balance their wares on their head as they walk on the dirt road past a camp were women and children rescued by Nigerian soldiers from Boko Haram extremists at Sambisa Forest have taken refuge in Yola, Nigeria Monday, May 4, 2015. ( AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
Salamatu Bulama, a lady who claims that Islamist exremists stoned her and others before she was rescued by Nigerian soldiers, as she talks to the media sitting in a clinic at a camp in Yola, Nigeria Sunday, May 3, 2015. Boko Haram fighters stoned some of their captives to death as Nigeria's military approached to rescue the women, some survivors told The Associated Press on Sunday, as some of the released women captives told tragic stories about their time in captivity, for some after more than a year in the hands of Nigeria's homegrown Islamic extremists. ( AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
Women and children rescued by Nigerian soldiers from Boko Haram extremists at Sambisa Forest wait for treatment at at a refugee camp in Yola, Nigeria Monday, May 4, 2015. Even with the crackle of gunfire signaling rescuers were near, the horrors did not end: Boko Haram fighters stoned captives to death, some girls and women were crushed by an armored car and three died when a land mine exploded as they walked to freedom. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
Women and children who were rescued by Nigerian soldiers from Boko Haram extremists at Sambisa Forest register their names upon their arrival at a refugee camp in Yola, Nigeria, Saturday May 2, 2015. They were among a group of 275 people rescued from the Islamic extremists, the first to arrive at the refugee camp Saturday after a three-day journey to safety. Nigerian military said it has rescued more than 677 girls and women and destroyed more than a dozen insurgent camps in the past week. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
Lami Musa, 27-year-old who says her husband was killed before she was abducted by Islamist extremists, cradles her 5-day-old baby girl at a refugee camp clinic after she and others were rescued by Nigerian soldiers from Sambisa Forest, Yola, Nigeria Monday, May 4, 2015. Even with the crackle of gunfire signaling rescuers were near, the horrors did not end: Boko Haram fighters stoned captives to death, some girls and women were crushed by an armored car and three died when a land mine exploded as they walked to freedom. Through tears, smiles and eyes filled with pain, the survivors of months in the hands of the Islamic extremists told their tragic stories to The Associated Press on Sunday, their first day out of the war zone. "We just have to give praise to God that we are alive, those of us who have survived," said 27-year-old Lami Musa. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
Some parents of kidnapped girls from the government secondary school in Chibok, who were kidnapped a year ago, attend a protest in Abuja, Nigeria, Tuesday, April 14, 2015, as some 219 girls remain missing on the first anniversary of the kidnapping by Islamic extremists. President-elect Muhammadu Buhari said Tuesday that "We do not know if the Chibok girls can be rescued. Their whereabouts remain unknown," Buhari said in a statement. "As much as I wish to, I cannot promise that we can find them." (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
Some parents of kidnapped girls from the government secondary school in Chibok, who were kidnapped a year ago, attend a protest in Abuja, Nigeria, Tuesday, April 14, 2015, as some 219 girls remain missing on the first anniversary of the kidnapping by Islamic extremists. President-elect Muhammadu Buhari said Tuesday that "We do not know if the Chibok girls can be rescued. Their whereabouts remain unknown," Buhari said in a statement. "As much as I wish to, I cannot promise that we can find them." (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
Young girls known as Chibok Ambassadors, demonstrate in support of the girls kidnapped from the government secondary school in Chibok, a year ago, in Abuja, Nigeria, Tuesday, April 14, 2015. Never to be forgotten. The new slogan adopted Tuesday is a sad concession that many believe few of the Chibok girls kidnapped one year ago by Islamic extremists will ever find their way home. On the first anniversary of the day 276 schoolgirls were snatched in the middle of the night as they prepared to write science exams at their boarding school in northeastern Nigeria, President-elect Muhammadu Buhari said he cannot promise to find the 219 who are still missing. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
People march during a silent protest calling on the government to rescue the kidnapped girls of the government secondary school in Chibok, who were abducted a year ago, in Abuja, Nigeria, Monday, April 13, 2015. Nearly 300 schoolgirls from Chibok were abducted in a mass kidnapping on the night of April 14-15. Dozens escaped on their own but 219 remain missing. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
Protesters holds up placards demanding help from the Nigerian government to find the some 219 girls who remain missing on the first anniversary of the kidnapping by Islamic extremists, during a demonstration outside the Nigerian High Commission in London, Tuesday, April 14, 2015. April 14th marks the one year anniversary of the abduction from their school in Chibok, Nigeria, but Nigeria's President-elect Muhammadu Buhari said Tuesday that "We do not know if the Chibok girls can be rescued. Their whereabouts remain unknown." (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
People march on a street during a silent protest calling on the government to rescue the kidnapped girls of the government secondary school in Chibok, who were kidnapped a year ago, in Abuja, Nigeria, Monday, April 13, 2015. Nearly 300 schoolgirls from Chibok were abducted in a mass kidnapping on the night of April 14-15. Dozens escaped on their own but 219 remain missing. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
FILE - In this file photo taken Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2014, people demonstrate calling on the Nigerian government to rescue girls taken from a secondary school in Chibok region, in the city of Abuja, Nigeria . Days after Nigeria's military raised hopes by announcing Islamic extremists have agreed to a cease-fire, Boko Haram is still fighting and there is no word about 219 schoolgirls held hostage for six months. Officials had said talks with Nigeria's Islamic extremist rebels would resume in neighboring Chad this week, but there was no confirmation that negotiations had resumed by Wednesday. (AP Photo/Olamikan Gbemiga File)
Young girls known as Chibok Ambassadors, carry placards bearing the names of the girls kidnapped from the government secondary school in Chibok, a year ago, during a demonstration, in Abuja, Nigeria, Tuesday, April 14, 2015. Never to be forgotten. The new slogan adopted Tuesday is a sad concession that many believe few of the Chibok girls kidnapped one year ago by Islamic extremists will ever find their way home. On the first anniversary of the day 276 schoolgirls were snatched in the middle of the night as they prepared to write science exams at their boarding school in northeastern Nigeria, President-elect Muhammadu Buhari said he cannot promise to find the 219 who are still missing. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
In this photo taken Wednesday, April 8, 2015, soldiers escort Hassan Usman, a forced laborer for Boko Haram who had his hand amputated by the Islamic extremists for allegedly stealing fuel in Gwoza, Nigeria, a town newly liberated from Boko Haram. Each day brings new reports of atrocities, with mass graves being discovered in towns seized back from the militants who had set up a so-called “Islamic caliphate” across a great swath of northeast Nigeria. Boko Haram's nearly 6-year-old Islamic uprising in northeast Nigeria that has killed thousands — a reported 10,000 just last year — and forced more than 1.5 million from their homes. (AP Photo/Lekan Oyekanmi)
In this photo taken Wednesday, April 8, 2015, Nigerian soldiers stand guard in front of the burned out palace of the Emir of Gwoza, in Gwoza, Nigeria, a town newly liberated from Boko Haram. Each day brings new reports of atrocities, with mass graves being discovered in towns seized back from the militants who had set up a so-called “Islamic caliphate” across a great swath of northeast Nigeria. Boko Haram's nearly 6-year-old Islamic uprising in northeast Nigeria that has killed thousands — a reported 10,000 just last year — and forced more than 1.5 million from their homes. (AP Photo/Lekan Oyekanmi)
In this photo taken Wednesday, April 8, 2015, Nigerian Soldiers man a check point in Gwoza, Nigeria, a town newly liberated from Boko Haram. Each day brings new reports of atrocities, with mass graves being discovered in towns seized back from the militants who had set up a so-called “Islamic caliphate” across a great swath of northeast Nigeria. Boko Haram's nearly 6-year-old Islamic uprising in northeast Nigeria that has killed thousands — a reported 10,000 just last year — and forced more than 1.5 million from their homes. (AP Photo/Lekan Oyekanmi)
In this photo taken Wednesday, April 8, 2015, Nigerian soldiers man a check point in Gwoza, Nigeria, a town newly liberated from Boko Haram. Each day brings new reports of atrocities, with mass graves being discovered in towns seized back from the militants who had set up a so-called “Islamic caliphate” across a great swath of northeast Nigeria. Boko Haram's nearly 6-year-old Islamic uprising in northeast Nigeria that has killed thousands — a reported 10,000 just last year — and forced more than 1.5 million from their homes. (AP Photo/Lekan Oyekanmi)
In this photo taken Wednesday, April 8, 2015, a Woman cries as she learns that her relatives were killed by Boko Haram in Gwoza, Nigeria, a town newly liberated from Boko Haram. Each day brings new reports of atrocities, with mass graves being discovered in towns seized back from the militants who had set up a so-called “Islamic caliphate” across a great swath of northeast Nigeria. Boko Haram's nearly 6-year-old Islamic uprising in northeast Nigeria that has killed thousands — a reported 10,000 just last year — and forced more than 1.5 million from their homes. (AP Photo/Lekan Oyekanmi)
Parents of missing Chibok schoolgirls carry placards on April 14, 2015 to protest the delay in rescuing their daughters as they gather to mark the one-year anniversary of the abduction of 219 schoolgirls by Boko Haram Islamists in the northeastern Nigerian city of Chibok in Borno State. But as the teenagers entered their second year of captivity at the hands of the Islamist militants, Nigeria's incoming president said he could give no guarantees about their safe return. AFP PHOTO / STRINGER (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
Parents of missing Chibok schoolgirls gather on April 14, 2015 to mark the one-year anniversary of the abduction of 219 schoolgirls by Boko Haram Islamists in the northeastern Nigerian city of Chibok in Borno State. But as the teenagers entered their second year of captivity at the hands of the Islamist militants, Nigeria's incoming president said he could give no guarantees about their safe return. AFP PHOTO / STRINGER (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
Parents of missing Chibok schoolgirls gather on April 14, 2015 to mark the one-year anniversary of the abduction of 219 schoolgirls by Boko Haram Islamists in the northeastern Nigerian city of Chibok in Borno State. But as the teenagers entered their second year of captivity at the hands of the Islamist militants, Nigeria's incoming president said he could give no guarantees about their safe return. AFP PHOTO / STRINGER (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
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"Now they are excited about their freedom," he said. "Tomorrow there will be screenings to determine whether they are Boko Haram wives, whether they are from Chibok, how long they have been in the camps, and if they have children."

Some of the girls were injured, and some of the militants killed, he said without giving more details.

The group was rescued on Tuesday afternoon from camps, "discovered near or on the way to Sambisa," one army official said.

Nigerian forces backed by warplanes invaded the vast former colonial game reserve late last week as part of a push to win back territory from the group.

The group, notorious for violence against civilians, controlled an area roughly the size of Belgium at the start of the year but has since been beaten back by Nigerian troops, backed by Chad, Niger and Cameroon.

While the Nigerian army maintains the group is now hemmed in Sambisa Forest, militants have managed to launch attacks in the neighbourhood including chasing soldiers out of Marte town and an island on Lake Chad.

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