Updated November 21
Boko Haram jihadists attacked three military bases in northeast Nigeria over the weekend, putting the spotlight on insecurity just three months before presidential polls.
On Sunday, November 17, fighters likely from the Islamic State West Africa Province faction attacked a base in Metele, a remote village in northeast Borno state, near the Niger border.
Troops were “dislodged” from the base before it was reclaimed with aerial support, a military officer in the northeast told AFP.
“There are still no details of human or material losses,” said the officer, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak on the incident.
According to a military officer who requested anonymity, at least 43 were killed in the attack on Metele, AFP reported on November 20.
“Our troops were completely routed and the terrorists captured the base after heavy fighting,” he said, adding that the base commander and three officers were among the dead.
A pro-government militiaman said the jihadists arrived on around 20 trucks and army air support did not arrive until after they had “invaded the base and looted the weapons”.
Also on Sunday, jihadists launched a pre-dawn attack on another base in the town of Gajiram, some 80 km (50 miles) north of the Borno state capital, Maiduguri.
“Soldiers fought off the insurgents after hours of fighting which lasted up to 5:30 a.m. (0430 GMT),” said Kulo Gana, who lives 60 km away in the garrison town of Monguno.
On Saturday, ISWAP fighters attacked a base in the town of Mainok, killing a soldier and seizing a truck from civilian militia fighting the jihadists.
“They faced stiff resistance from soldiers who fought them for an hour before the terrorists withdrew,” said a militia member in the town.
“We lost a soldier in that Mainok attack,” the military officer said.
The military said it repelled an attack on a base in Kekeno village, near the garrison town of Monguno, on Friday, in the second attempted takeover in two months.
Jihadists in several trucks carrying anti-aircraft guns attacked the base, sources said.
The militants were pushed back after a prolonged fight that lasted almost three hours with aerial support and reinforcements from Monguno.
“The terrorists made desperate efforts to overrun the base but were pushed back after heavy fighting,” a military officer in Maiduguri said.
Also on Friday, ISWAP said it killed three soldiers in clashes in Kareto, a base 150 km north of Maiduguri, two days earlier.
ISWAP claimed that three soldiers were killed in the clashes and that they captured an “array of weapons and ammunitions as spoils.”
“We lost three soldiers in the fight and several others are still missing,” a military officer in Maiduguri told AFP on Thursday.
At the same time, Boko Haram fighters attacked Mammanti village, just outside Maiduguri, killing one person and burning the entire village.
They then stole hundreds of cattle, the local chief of the village and residents said.
Islamic State affiliate claims responsibility
Boko Haram has lately intensified its armed campaign, launching a number of major assaults in Nigeria’s remote northeast region. Attacks on military bases have been increasingly frequent since July, mostly in the northern part of Borno state near the shores of Lake Chad.
Scores of soldiers have been killed, injured or are missing in the latest wave of attacks, but the military has repeatedly denied or played down losses.
On November 12, the Nigerian Army announced that it appointed a new commander, Major General Benson Akinroluyo as head of Operation Lafiya Dole, the operation targeting Boko Haram in the northeast. Akinroluyo replaced Major General Abba Dikko and is the fifth commander in two years to head the fight against the insurgents.
Both Metele and Gajiram have been attacked in the past six months, underlining the persistent threat that Boko Haram poses to the ravaged region.
ISWAP claimed Monday to have killed 42 troops in the Metele and Mainok attacks, according to the SITE Intelligence Group which monitors jihadist activities.
The militant group said it killed “more than 40 Nigerian soldiers” in Metele and two more in Mainok, in addition to carting away “four tanks” and other vehicles and ammunition.
Army spokesperson Brigadier General Texas Chukwu told AFP he had “no information” about any attacks. Neither claim could be independently verified.
Attacks on bases have increased in recent months and claims that he military has played down casualties.
On November 20, Islamic State published images it said were from the recent attacks, including pictures of the captured vehicles.
— MrKyruer (@MrRevinsky) November 20, 2018
Possible reconciliation between Boko Haram factions
Boko Haram split into two factions in mid-2016 over ideological differences, but a recent video posted by one of its leaders, Abubakar Shekau, hints at a possible reconciliation.
Shekau’s faction is notorious for suicide bombings and indiscriminate killings of civilians, while the other, known as Islamic State West Africa Province and led by Abu Mus’ab Al-Barnawi, largely focuses on attacking military and government targets.
Shekau has pledged allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, but ISIS central gave its formal backing only to ISWAP.
Shekau claimed a series of attacks in northeast Nigeria in a video message obtained by AFP on November 9. According to AFP, Shekau displays the Arabic logo and black flag of ISWAP in the new video, suggesting a possible reconciliation between the two factions.
The latest attacks have been seen as a sign of a hardline takeover in the ISWAP faction by more radical lieutenants and have stretched the army at a time when troops are complaining of fatigue.
The group’s de facto leader Mamman Nur was recently killed, along with another commander who allegedly planned to surrender along with 300 hostages.
More than 27,000 people are thought to have been killed in the nine-year insurgency that has triggered a humanitarian crisis and left 1.8 million people without homes.
President Muhammadu Buhari, a former army general who was elected in 2015 on a promise to defeat Boko Haram, is seeking re-election at polls in February.
His government maintains that the insurgency is close to defeat.
With reporting from AFP