Boko Haram fighters attacked and overran an army outpost in Nigeria’s Borno state, stealing weapons before fleeing, military sources said on Saturday, April 27.
Militants from Islamic State West Africa Province, the ISIS-affiliated faction of Boko Haram, attacked the base late on Friday, two military sources said.
The fighters reportedly used more than a dozen pickup trucks fitted with heavy machine guns and three armoured personnel carriers stolen from security forces. Flanked by a fleet of gunmen firing from motorbikes, they burst out from the bush early on Friday evening and sped towards the base.
“There was a serious gunfight,” said one military officer who asked not to be named. “The troops put up a good fight, but they were outgunned and overwhelmed … unfortunately, the base fell to the ISWAP terrorists, who took away weapons and fled.”
There was no immediate official response from the army.
Kimba is around 135 km (85 miles) southwest of Borno state capital Maiduguri.
It was not clear if there were casualties, and some soldiers reportedly scattered into the bush to escape the attack.
One eyewitness in the town of Biu, around 35 km further southwest, reported soldiers arriving on Saturday from the sacked base. Some of them were wounded, he said.
Update April 28 ISIS claimed via its Amaq propaganda agency that about 10 soldiers had been killed and others injured in the attack, putting it in nearby Sabon Gari. One soldier was captured it added.
It said three “tanks” were destroyed, while two tanks, an armoured vehicle, four four-wheel-drive vehicles as well as weapons and ammunition were captured.
It released an image of a large wheeled armoured vehicle with NASFC (Nigerian Army Special Forces Command) marked on the front, saying that it had been captured.
ISIS previously claimed that ISWAP fighters on April 13 attacked a checkpoint in Sabon Gari manned by army and militia personnel, saying that three were killed and others injured.
Update April 29 At least five Nigerian soldiers were killed and around 30 are missing three days after the base was overrun, security sources told AFP on Monday.
“We have recovered five bodies of soldiers who paid the supreme price fighting the terrorists,” a military officer told AFP, giving the first reports of casualty numbers.
“Search and rescue teams are still looking for around 30 more soldiers who have gone missing since the attack,” the officer added.
A second officer confirmed the toll of five dead.
“There are high hopes the missing soldiers will be found – or will find their way back,” he added. “We are not thinking of the worst scenario.”
Update May 2 The Nigerian military described reporting on the incident as “unsubstantiated” and “fake.”
Troops from 254 Task Force Battalion deployed to Forward Operation Base Kimba “came in contact with the terrorists” while on clearance operations in Sabon Gari on April 27, Colonel Ado Isa said in a May 2 release.
“During the encounter, troops were reinforced and gave the terrorists a lethal fight with only minor casualty on own troops and few damaged equipment,” Ado said, without specifying the Nigerian military casualties.
“Dozens of the BHTs [Boko Haram terrorists] were decimated and several others escaped with severe gunshot wounds,” he said, adding that troops had “dominated all likely escape routes of the terrorists.”
“We therefore call on the general public to disregard the unsubstantiated story circulating in some media outfits and other social media platforms with fake casualty report of own troops,” Aso said, adding that the “fake report trending is the handiwork” of Boko Haram sympathizers.
He said that Boko Haram fighters had been “chased out of their enclaves” and their depleted numbers were “looking for ways to sneak into town for food supplies, logistics and most importantly weapons,” and “springing surprise attacks on soft targets, smaller units, including civilian settlement with market advantage.”
On March 27, militants believed to be ISWAP fighters attacked a military base outside Miringa, around 15 km north of Biu.
The jihadist group known as Boko Haram began its decade-long bloody insurgency in northeastern Nigeria in 2009 but it has since spread into neighboring Niger, Chad and Cameroon, prompting a regional military response. More than 27,000 people have been killed and two million others displaced, sparking a dire humanitarian crisis in the region.
Boko Haram split into two factions in mid-2016. One, led by long-time leader Abubakar Shekau, is notorious for suicide bombings and indiscriminate killings of civilians. Shekau pledged allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi in March 2015, but ISIS central only gives formal backing to the other faction, which it calls Islamic State West Africa Province.
The ISWAP faction, which largely focuses on attacking military and government targets, was led by Abu Mus’ab Al-Barnawi, but last month, audio recordings revealed that ISIS appointed Abu Abdullah Idris bin Umar, also known as Ibn Umar al-Barnawi, as leader. ISIS has not yet made a public statement confirming the change.
ISWAP is the dominant insurgent group in the Lake Chad area further west, where the Multinational Joint Task Force, a regional counter-insurgency force comprising personnel from Chad, Cameroon, Niger, and Nigeria, launched Operation Yancin Tafki on February 21 to battle the insurgents. Antigha has said the cross-border operation is aimed at “making islands and other settlements in Lake Chad untenable for Boko Haram Terrorists.”
On April 25, ISIS published a video via its Amaq propaganda agency showing a man being beheaded, claiming he was an MNJTF soldier and that the execution took place near Monguno.
With reporting from AFP.