At least 17 Nigerian soldiers were killed in a Boko Haram attack on a military base in the country’s northeast, military sources told AFP Thursday, the third assault on three different bases in less than a month.
On the evening of Wednesday, August 8, heavily armed militants in trucks stormed a military base in Garunda village in Borno State, the epicenter of the Islamist insurgency that has been raging for nine years.
The attack is the latest of a series of bloody Boko Haram assaults on military bases in Nigeria, underscoring the continued threat the Islamists pose to the region and again putting the spotlight on the Nigerian government’s claim that Boko Haram is “decimated.”
“Our troops came under attack from Boko Haram terrorists in Garunda last night,” a military officer told AFP.
“Unfortunately we lost 17 troops, 14 others were injured while an unspecified number is still unaccounted for,” said the military source, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak on the incident.
The source added that the militants looted weapons and vehicles before fleeing.
Boko Haram factions intensify campaign
Boko Haram has intensified its armed campaign in recent weeks, and has launched two other major assaults on military bases in the remote northeast region in which dozens of troops have been killed or are missing. It is divided into two factions that have competing goals and operational methods. One, led by Abu Mus’ab Al-Barnawi, largely focuses on attacking the military. It is affiliated to Islamic State and is apparently in talks with the Nigerian government. The other, led by Abubakar Shekau, is notorious for suicide bombings and indiscriminate killings of civilians.
On July 26, Boko Haram militants stormed a military base on the outskirts of Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state.
On July 14, jihadists suspected to be from the Barnawi faction attacked a base in Jilli village, in neighboring Yobe state. Dozens of troops were killed, wounded or missing, according to several security sources.
The army conceded the base was attacked but did not give a death toll, saying that the “troops reorganized and successfully repelled the attack and normalcy has since returned to the area.”
The base attacked yesterday in Garunda village of Borno state had just been set up for troops from the 81 brigade who had been stationed in Jilli village and forced to move after the July 14 assault.
“The truth of the matter is that the troops in Jilli were relocated to Garunda where a new base was established,” said the second military source, who gave a similar death toll.
“Troops were just setting up and the excavator operator was working to fortify the base with trenches against attack from the terrorists when the attack happened,” said the officer.
The Nigerian army did not respond to to requests for comment.
Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Agency on Thursday confirmed in a statement that a staff member, an excavator operator attached to the military, “was killed by Boko Haram yesterday in Damasak, Borno state.”
Attacks have not been limited to military targets. On August 6, seven people were killed in a suspected Boko Haram dawn raid on Munduri village near Maiduguri. Several of those killed were beheaded and the entire village was burned. On August 3, five people were killed and the village of Gasarwa was razed in a similar raid near the garrison town of Monguno.
Boko Haram no longer controls swathes of territory in northeast Nigeria as it did at the height of its insurgency in 2014, yet the Islamist militants still pose a threat to the impoverished region. Recent attacks underline the threat posed despite repeated claims that the group whose insurgency has killed at least 20,000 people since 2009, is on the verge of defeat.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has insisted that the Islamists are a spent force as he gears up for elections next year.
In an interview with Nigerian press published on Thursday, Buhari’s information minister Lai Mohammed said “we promised to fight insecurity … despite what anybody says, we have decimated Boko Haram.”
Six months away from presidential polls, Buhari is under pressure to defend his track record as he battles insecurity across Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country.
The government is now encouraging thousands of people displaced by the conflict to return to their homes from makeshift camps in the Borno state capital, Maiduguri. But international aid agencies working in the remote region say conditions are not right for mass returns, particularly in terms of security.
With reporting from AFP