One soldier was killed and five were injured in an attack in northeastern Nigeria’s Borno state that also saw 10 Islamic State West Africa Province fighters killed, the regional force battling insurgency in the Lake Chad area said.
The incident in Baga was described as a “surprise dawn attack on Multinational Joint Task Force and national troops,” by the MNJTF’s Chief of Military Public Information Colonel Timothy Antigha in a Monday, July 29 release published by Nigeria’s Defence Headquarters.
Antigha said that around around 30 ISWAP militants – including suicide bombers – attempted to infiltrate a defensive position in the Baga area around 0530 local time.
He said that “vigilant troops spotted their approach” and thwarted the assault.
“In the process, 10 terrorists, including four suicide bombers were neutralized. Others escaped with gun shot wounds,” Antigha said.
“Unfortunately, a soldier paid the supreme [price], while five others sustained varying injuries and have been evaluated for medical attention,” Antigha said, without specifying the soldiers’ nationalities.
Arms and ammunition were later recovered, Antigha said, and an image showing four AK-pattern assault rifles and a mobile phone was published.
Update, July 31: Islamic State on Wednesday claimed that ISWAP fighters clashed for several hours with soldiers “at a site where members of the Nigerian army were gathered” at Mile 4, which is near Baga. “More than 15 apostates were killed and others were wounded,” the statement said, adding that the insurgents captured “various weapons and ammunition.”
“It must be re-emphasized that the MNJTF acting cohesively with national forces will continue to pursue courses of action necessary for the achievement of its mandate in the Lake Chad Basin,” Antigha said.
The MNJTF, which comprises personnel from Chad, Cameroon, Niger, and Nigeria, launched Operation Yancin Tafki on February 21 to battle the insurgents. It has said the cross-border operation is aimed at “making islands and other settlements in Lake Chad untenable for Boko Haram Terrorists.”
ISWAP in the Lake Chad area
Since July last year, ISWAP has intensified attacks on military targets, killing dozens of soldiers and overrunning bases, mainly in the Lake Chad area of Nigeria, Chad and Niger where it is the dominant insurgent group.
In late December, ISWAP fighters overran two military bases in and around the fishing town of Baga, east of Borno state capital Maiduguri on the shores of Lake Chad. Images released by Islamic State appeared to show large quantities of weapons, vehicles and other equipment captured during the fighting in and around Baga.
ISWAP also attacked nearby military locations in Cross-Kauwa, Kukawa, Kekeno and Bunduram, and made three unsuccessful attempts to overrun Monguno, prompting preparations for a military offensive in the area late last year.
The fighting triggered a “massive displacement” of civilians to already overcrowded camps in Monguno and Maiduguri, the United Nations said in January.
Nigerian troops reportedly returned to Baga on January 10, but the town – and the wider area – has been contested since the initial onslaught in December.
In May, ISIS released video featured extensive battle footage of attacks against military bases which appear to have been carried out between November and January, including attacks in Kareto, Arege and Baga in the Lake Chad area of Borno state.
More recently in early June, ISWAP fighters attacked military bases south of Baga in Marte, Dikwa and Kirenowa.
In late June, at least one Chadian soldier was killed and 12 other soldiers were injured during an MNJTF operation against ISWAP in the Baga area, the Nigerian Army said, adding that 42 “terrorists” were “neutralized while several others were wounded.” ISIS claimed “at least 15” soldiers were killed and others injured in a suicide car bomb attack.
The number of military casualties caused in recent attacks is unclear. The Nigerian military seldom comments on the ongoing counter-insurgency operations, and tends to downplay the insurgents’ effectiveness, calling reports “fake news” and the work of “Boko Haram sympathizers.”
Decade-long cross-border insurgency
The jihadist group known as Boko Haram began its 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. The U.S. assesses that Boko Haram and ISWAP have been responsible for over 35,000 deaths since 2011.
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 in March, audio recordings revealed that ISIS appointed Abu Abdullah Idris bin Umar, also known as Ibn Umar al-Barnawi, as leader. Despite releasing several videos featuring ISWAP since, ISIS has not yet made a public statement confirming the change.
Since May, Islamic State has attributed insurgent activities in the Mali-Burkina Faso-Niger tri-border area to its West Africa Province affiliate, rather than to what was previously known as Islamic State in the Greater Sahara. In a June 15 ISIS propaganda video, ISWAP militants purportedly in Nigeria, Mali and Burkina Faso were shown reaffirming their pledge of allegiance to ISIS leader Baghdadi.