Islamic State claimed fighters from its West Africa province affiliate attacked Nigerian military personnel in Dikwa in northeast Nigeria, while military sources told AFP that eight soldiers were killed.
Two military officers told AFP that a military convoy late on Wednesday, January 30 ran into ISWA fighters near the town of Dikwa, around 90 km (55 miles) east of Borno state capital Maiduguri, towards the border with Chad.
“The terrorists in three guntrucks and several motorcycles engaged the military convoy around 7:40 pm [1840GMT], killing eight soldiers,” the first military officer said.
One soldier was still missing.
“The fighting lasted for 30 minutes and the military convoy of only three vehicles was outgunned and eight soldiers were killed,” the second officer said.
In a Thursday statement, ISIS said ISWA fighters attacked the military in Dikwa, engaging them with heavy and medium weapons. It claimed two soldiers were captured, and that 15 soldiers were killed and others injured, while the remainder fled. The statement did not say when the attack occurred.
The insurgents were forced to flee following troop reinforcements from Dikwa and nearby Gajibo, the first officer told AFP.
The convoy carrying a military commander was returning to Dikwa from the town of Rann where the senior officer had gone to supervise the deployment of troops and weapons after Boko Haram attacks, the two sources said.
On January 14, fighters from Abubakar Shekau’s faction of Boko Haram overran a military base and IDP camp in Rann. Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) said that 14 people including three soldiers were killed in the assault and by January 16 around 10,000 displaced people were forced to flee the area. Shekau’s Boko Haram faction later claimed the Rann attack in a video.
Boko Haram split into two factions in mid-2016. One is led by Abu Mus’ab Al-Barnawi and largely focuses on attacking military and government targets, while the other, led by Abubakar Shekau, is notorious for suicide bombings and indiscriminate killings of civilians.
Shekau pledged allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, but ISIS central only gives formal backing to the Barnawi faction, which is known as Islamic State West Africa province.
Both factions of Boko Haram have intensified attacks in the region over several months, but the upsurge in ISWA attacks has been much more serious. Amid signs of a takeover by more hardline leaders, the group has launched dozens of assaults on military targets in Borno and Yobe states.
ISWA attacks have increasingly featured in ISIS propaganda, with a number of attacks on the Nigerian military claimed over the past week.
ISIS claimed ISWA fighters attacked a military base in Ajiri in Borno state, killing seven soldiers and injuring others on January 23. It said militants captured a four-wheel drive vehicle, weapons and ammunition. Ajiri is around 15 km (9 miles) south of Dikwa.
In a separate statement, ISIS claimed ISWA fighters attacked a military base in Geidam in Yobe state, also on January 23. The Nigerian Army confirmed the incident had caused casualties but did not say how many. Some reports said as many as eight soldiers were killed.
In January 27 statement, ISIS said that ISWA fighters were responsible for an attack in “Lomani,” likely meaning Logomani in Borno state, claiming that 30 soldiers were killed and others injured. “Only eight of our troops were wounded,” a Nigerian Army spokesperson said.
The attacks come as Nigeria gears up for crucial elections with security becoming a major campaign issue.
Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari was elected in 2015 on a promise to end the conflict and he is seeking a second term in the presidential election on February 16. National Assembly elections will be held the same day, while regional polls are set for March 2.
Buhari said in December 2015 that Boko Haram was “technically defeated” after a sustained counter-insurgency. But on January 9 he acknowledged setbacks in the fight-back, including “battle fatigue” among soldiers from a wave of guerrilla style hit-and-run tactics and suicide bombings.
More than 27,000 people have been killed since the insurgency began in 2009, and 1.8 million people are still homeless and in need of humanitarian assistance.
With reporting from AFP