Nigerian Defence Ministry claims to have rescued 300 people but girls kidnapped a year ago not among them.

Nigeria's Army has claimed to have rescued almost 300 women and girls after seizing three "terrorist camps" from the Islamists of Boko Haram, but they did not include any of the 219 schoolgirls kidnapped from Chibok a year ago.

The operation raised hopes the children who were seized during Boko Haram's most notorious raid might be saved.

Several towns and villages have been seized back from Boko Haram in an army counter-offensive, breaking the gunmen's grip over thousands of square kilometres of territory in the neighbouring states of Borno and Yobe.

As part of this assault, the army has been trying to clear Boko Haram from Sambisa forest, a remote area near Nigeria's north-eastern frontier that served as its stronghold. The Islamists are known to have established camps and held captives inside the forest.

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"Troops have this afternoon captured and destroyed three camps of terrorists inside the Sambisa forest and rescued 200 girls and 93 women," said Chris Olukolade, a Nigerian Defence Ministry spokesman. "The freed persons are now being screened and profiled."

Nigeria's army has made false claims in the past about releasing captives from Boko Haram.

A view of houses destroyed by Boko Haram in Gwoza, Nigeria, a town newly liberated from Boko Haram. Photo / AP
A view of houses destroyed by Boko Haram in Gwoza, Nigeria, a town newly liberated from Boko Haram. Photo / AP

However, the army's counter-attack has inflicted a series of defeats on Boko Haram, aided by forces deployed by Chad and Cameroon. In particular, Nigeria has managed to recapture the town of Gwoza, which Boko Haram had used as its headquarters. The army was known to be conducting a sweep through Sambisa forest, so the latest statement is consistent with the overall picture.

Boko Haram raided a Christian boarding school in the town of Chibok on April 14 last year, carrying off 276 teenage girls. Several dozen managed to escape in the first hours of their captivity, leaving 219 in the hands of the insurgents.

Abubakar Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram, later paraded the girls before a camera, showing all were clad in niqabs. He announced their forcible conversion to Islam and promised that all would be "sold in the market".

Boko Haram treats women and children as booty of war and routinely enslaves and sells its captives. Afterwards, Sambo Dasuki, the Nigerian national security adviser, said the army believed the Chibok girls had been "dispersed and sold".

If so, they are unlikely to be among the captives discovered in Sambisa forest.

The fate of the Chibok children gave rise to a global campaign with the slogan "Bring Back Our Girls". At that time, searching for the girls did not appear to be a priority for Nigeria's Government under President Goodluck Jonathan, who lost an election last month and will leave office in May.

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Boko Haram has kidnapped an unknown number of girls, women and young men to be used as sex slaves and fighters. Many have escaped or been released as Boko Haram has fled a multinational offensive that began at the end of January.

A military source who was in Sambisa told AP that Boko Haram was using armed women as human shields, putting them as their first line of defence.

- AP