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Vigilantes are in the fight against Boko Haram

As the two-year anniversary of the kidnapping of the Chibok schoolgirls nears, some people living in areas struggling to contain Boko Haram are stepping up their own efforts to defend their communities.

Thursday marks 2 years since the Chibok schoolgirls were kidnapped from Nigeria's unstable north

Members of a local vigilante force in the Cameroonian borderlands have formed up to defend against the latest threat imposed by Boko Haram — girls strapped with explosives.

Made up of men and boys armed with machetes, homemade rifles or bows and arrows, these local forces have the blessing of government and accompany the army on patrols.

(Joe Penney/Reuters)

Cameroon's army has turned to so-called vigilance committees for help.

Last month two suicide bombers — both women — were intercepted by the vigilante forces, proof the system works and is, for now, here to stay.

(Joe Penney/Reuters)

Cameroon has been hard-hit by Boko Haram.

After watching its influence spread during a six-year campaign that, according to the U.S. military, has killed 15,000 people, Cameroon has united with its regional neighbours to stamp out Boko Haram.

The primary instrument in that effort is an 8,700 member-strong force of troops from Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria assembled for an offensive last year. These Cameroonian soldiers, part of the country's elite Rapid Intervention Brigade, are part of that effort and were photographed while on patrol in Kerawa town on March 16. 

(Joe Penney/Reuters)
(Joe Penney/Reuters)

The U.S.-backed Rapid Intervention Brigade, known by its French acronym BIR, is Cameroon's official response in the high-risk, 400 kilometre-long stretch of northern territory at the centre of Boko Haram's latest strikes. Despite the heavily-armed presence, the area is still mostly guarded by the people who live there.

The coalition put Boko Haram on its heels.

While the joint military operations were successful in driving Boko Haram from most of their strongholds (denying them their dream of an Islamic emirate in northeastern Nigeria) government forces are now thinly spread along an increasingly porous border. 

This is Kolofata town, and a village on its outskirts near the Cameroon-Nigeria border, on March 16. 

(Joe Penney/Reuters)
(Joe Penney/Reuters)

According to a report from UNICEF released Tuesday, the number of child bombers used by Boko Haram has increased from four to 44 in a year. Seventy-five per cent of those children are girls.

Since August 2014, the sect has carried out 336 attacks in Cameroon, according to the Cameroonian army, which has lost 57 of its own men while defending the north. Of 34 recorded suicide bombings killing 174 people, most were carried out by girls and young women aged 14 to 24 years, a fact that is causing some villagers to be suspicious of young people.

Boko Haram's greatest weapons are fear and doubt.

Close to the border sits the UN-run Minawao camp, home to nearly 57,000 refugees who have fled Boko Haram in Nigeria. Even here, suspicion runs high. New refugees are often pegged by villagers as infiltrators looking for recruits.

Here, a security officer scans a woman entering a health clinic at Minawao in March.

(Joe Penney/Reuters)

Thursday marks 2 years since the Chibok abductions.

A video released by Boko Haram on Tuesday may be the first sighting of some of the abducted school girls since their capture in 2014. Three mothers, including Yana Galang, seen here with a picture of her daughter Rifkatu Galang, said they had identified their children in the footage that featured about 15 girls. Galeng was photographed in Lagos, Nigeria, this month.

Boko Haram militants abducted 276 schoolgirls from Chibok, in Nigeria's rural north, on April 14, 2014. Of the kidnapped students, 57 escaped while 219 remain missing despite a global campaign to find them.

Various false leads have raised hopes but their whereabouts remain unknown. The children pictured below were photographed in Chibok on March 25.

(Stefan Heunis/AFP/Getty)
(Stefan Heunis/AFP/Getty) (Stefan Heunis/AFP/Getty)

With files from The Associated Press and Getty Images

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