The Operation Whirl Stroke, a military spike operation to end herdsmen crisis in Benue State lost one soldier but killed 21 herdsmen along Gbajimba-Akor-Tomatar axis of Guma local government area of the state in the last three weeks of its operation.
Major General Adeyemi Yekini, Force Commander of the military Operation also said others sustained injuries in several encounters with the armed herdsmen.
Yekini explained that those killed were among the armed marauders who had been carrying our raids on Benue communities.
Speaking Monday in Makurdi, he explained that invaders had last Saturday, “engaged our troops in an exchange of gunfire for about two hours in Guma during which one soldier was killed and two others sustained injuries.”
He noted that in one of the encounters, a Mi35 helicopter had to be deployed to provide air support for the troops as they engaged the armed militant herdsmen.
“During the fire fight, the Mi35 spotted a group of about 20 armed herdsmen riding on motorcycles moving along the axis towards Nasarawa State. 15 of the armed herdsmen on five motorcycles were neutralized with rocket fire from the Mi35 while others escaped with varying degrees of injury.
“Own troops chased the remaining herdsmen until contact was broken close to the boundary between Nasarawa and Benue State. Plans are in progress to conduct further clearance operations of the border areas between the two states,” Yekini said.
He stated further that an operation was conducted in response to the recent killings around Katsina-Ala area of the state, suspected to have been masterminded by the wanted militia leader, Terwase Akwaza, also known as Gana.
The Force commander said, “The raid operation which took place at Tse Akwaza camp belonging to Gana in Kastina-Ala commenced at about 5am on August 18, 2018, through Jato Aka-Kashimbila-Tyotsar axis but was suspended due to bad terrain and damaged bridge at Tyotsar which troops could not cross due to flooding.”
Yekini said the troops, however, returned to the target area through an alternative route with assault on the camp preceded by an air strike which neutralized key structures in the area, after which troops moved in for mop up exercise.
“It was not clear if Gana was killed during the assault but trails of blood seen in the building suspected to be where he slept suggests he might have been hit. A motorcycle usually used by Gana was also badly damaged during the air strike,” General Yekini said.
He explained that efforts were ongoing to confirm if Gana was killed in the raid, assuring that the troops would not relent in their pursuit of the wanted militia leader if he was still alive.
Gen Yekini said his troops had been able to recover seven automatic weapons from armed militia, adding that the force had, to a large extent, restored peace in troubled communities to ensure gradual return of some Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs, to their ancestral homes.
“The kinetic and non-kinetic activities have jointly contributed to the return of about 20,000 IDPs in Benue in the last six weeks and another 15,000 in Nasarawa states,” he said.