No fewer than 30 soldiers were reportedly killed by Boko Haram terrorists at a military base in Borno state on Thursday, international news agencies, Agence France Presse-AFP and Reuters reported.
The attack was carried out by insurgents believed to be members Islamic State in West Africa (ISWA), was on a base in Zari village in the North East of Nigeria.
In 2016, ISWA split from Boko Haram, the jihadist group which has killed more than 30,000 people in the region since 2009, when it launched an insurgency to create an Islamic caliphate.
The Zari attack highlights the challenge to secure the northeast, months ahead of a February election in which security looks set to be a campaign issue
“The battle lasted for about two hours and our colleagues fought them but things became bad before the fighter jets arrived. We lost about 30 of our soldiers and about 10 were wounded,” said a military source who did not want to be named.
Another, who also did not want to be named, said 20 to 30 troops had been killed in a surprise attack. Details only emerged days later because it occurred in a remote area near the border with Niger.
The attack, in the Guzamala local government area of Borno, is the latest blow to Nigeria’s efforts to defeat insurgencies by Boko Haram and ISWA.
Earlier this week Reuters reported that Nigerian government officials had ordered thousands of displaced people to return to Guzamala, an area considered by aid agencies to be unsafe, as pressure mounts to show progress in the war against the insurgents ahead of the presidential election.
President Muhammadu Buhari, a former general, won the 2015 election after vowing to crush Islamist militants. He plans to seek a second term in February.
In July, the fourth commander in 14 months was named to lead the fight against the militants after a number of embarrassing defeats, despite the government having said since late 2015 that the Islamists in the region had been defeated.
However, Theatre Command of Operation Lafiya Dole dispelled as untrue the report carried by an international news agency, Agence France Presse, AFP and Reuters.
In a telephone interview with The Vanguard, spokesman for Theatre Command, Operation Lafiya Dole, Colonel Onyema Nwachukwu, while confirming the attack, denied that the Army suffered casualties.
According Colonel Nwachukwu, contrary to the report, several of the terrorists were killed by the military troops just as he said the terrorists’ equipment were captured. Hear him: “That information is not correct. It’s true that we had an encounter with Boko Haram at a location called Zari. The Boko Haram came to attack that community, and our troops deployed few kilometres away from the location, countered the attack.
“The ground troops were supported by the Air Task Force, and several Boko Haram Terrorists were killed, and we also destroyed many of their equipment, weapons.
“On our side, I’m yet to receive casualty figure on my desk, if there was any. So, I cannot confirm that we had (any) and I think it’s very untrue for anyone to (say we had that casualty figure).” He said a statement was earlier issued by the command to the effect.
The statement, which was signed by the DAPR, had read: “Troops… have successfully routed Boko Haram insurgents in an encounter that ensued yesterday (Thursday) evening at Zari village in Guzamali Local Government Area of Borno state.
“The insurgents were on rampage to loot the community and extort money from villagers but met with a fierce resistance by the troops who were supported by the Air Task Force.
“Several members of the Boko Haram fighters were neutralized and weapons destroyed during the encounter. “Zari village and the surrounding communities have been stabilized and normalcy restored. The troops have also been reinforced to conduct more robust fighting patrol in the general area.
“The people of Guzamali and Mobar communities and indeed the entire good people of Borno State are urged to remain calm, resilient and supportive of Operation Lafiya Dole, as the troops relentlessly fight terrorism and insurgency in the North East.”
It was gathered that the same location had come under attack just recently.
“The attack took place on Thursday, at Zari in Damasak. That was the same location that some people were dislodged; that was the place that some of them ran to. “It’s elements of 2 Division Nigerian Army that went for this Operation Last Hold. They were deployed in Zari, Damasak,” a source said.