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28 Jul 2018

17 soldiers killed, equipment stolen in multiple Boko Haram onslaught on military formations

A roadside ambush and two gunfire attacks reported earlier this week killed at least one officer and 16 soldiers and wounded 18 more troops in the volatile North-east region of Nigeria, in a daring continuation of Boko Haram’s renewed rampage against military targets that escalated with the raiding of two formations last week.

Top military sources who briefed PREMIUM TIMES on the aftermath of each of the three attacks executed over a five-day span said the insurgents also carted away valuable military hardware, including anti-aircraft gun trucks, Toyota Hilux trucks and at least one armoured personnel carrier.

The near-simultaneous and increasingly frequent attacks appeared to have greatly unsettled the military leadership in recent days, with sources attributing the latest redeployment of top commanders overseeing the counter-insurgency operations to the disappointment being felt at the Defence Headquarters.

It was the fifth reshuffle since 2015 in commanders of Operation Lafiya Dole, Nigerian military’s flagship anti-terrorism campaign across the Northeast.

Another Week Of Heavy Military Losses

In at least one instance, the terrorists destroyed an anti-aircraft gun truck rather than drive it away in Tarmuwa Local Government Area of Yobe State, sources said. This was when a detachment from 223 Battalion led by a lieutenant colonel lost eight soldiers after it was ambushed on July 21, marking the first of the last one week’s attacks.

One soldier was seriously wounded in that attack.

On July 24, soldiers on patrol in Damboa Local Government Area of Borno State encountered Boko Haram attackers in Yajiwa-Kaffa axis. One officer and six soldiers were killed while 14 other members of the team, including two local hunters, were seriously injured in the gunfire that erupted, military sources said.

The army did not disclose the attack to the media, which was why it went unreported until military sources informed PREMIUM TIMES about it Friday night as part of the paper’s findings about military and civilian casualties in the renewed Boko Haram attacks.

The terrorists continued their deadly campaign with the attack on Thursday night in Jakana, Borno settlement which lies west of Maiduguri on the road to Kano. Although the attack was largely repelled as security agencies said, two soldiers were still killed and three injured, facts the Nigerian Army and police concealed in their respective statements but which senior officers have now disclosed PREMIUM TIMES.

A police post was also reportedly set ablaze during the attack, with reports claiming two police officers died.

Military sources said the attack, which started at about 5:30 p.m., bore the markings of Boko Haram fighters on a foraging mission. Still, they managed to escape with an anti-aircraft gun truck, two Toyota Hilux vehicles and an armoured personnel carrier after plundering foodstuff in large quantity.

Boko Haram also attempted to break into the armoury at the military base in Jakana, but this attempt was foiled by troops, although sources said the insurgents stole some guns at the location.

A military spokesperson said Boko Haram also lost some of its fighters in the attacks, while even more of them escaped with gunshot injuries

But the losses inflicted on the Nigerian military had become so far reaching that military chiefs in Abuja are beginning to recalibrate their counter-insurgency strategy, sources said.

On Friday the Army announced a shake-up in top generals commanding different formations across the Northeast, amidst fear of a resurgent Boko Haram. The move was attributed to a need to inject new hands to further actualise the vision Tukur Buratai, the chief of army staff.

Mr Buratai paid an unscheduled visit to the war front on July 21 for a first-hand assessment of troops’ conditions after Boko Haram overran a forward operating base in Yobe and ambushed a detachment in Bama Local Government Area, Borno between July 13 and 14.

A Stubborn Scourge

This week’s attacks, although lesser in both scope and severity compared to last week’s, underscored the ability of terrorists to exploit open vulnerabilities in military operations for maximum damage, a technique largely underrated by both the military and the Buhari administration, said political and security analyst Sola Olubanjo.

“Boko Haram has proven over and again its ability to launch surprise attacks whenever the government concludes the terrorists can no longer carry out attacks,” Mr Olubanjo said. “The military and President Muhammadu Buhari with his aides have been claiming that only soft targets are being killed by Boko Haram, Nigerians can now judge how true that is with near-daily attacks on military bases and detachments.”

“I am aware that the government receives regular supports on the strategic ways of dealing with Boko Haram and other deadly gangs in the country, but they are more focused on the immediate gains of propaganda,” the analyst added. “But, I am not aware of anywhere in the world where a government would be expending so much energy and resources on trying to divert attention away from an insurgency with the hope that it would force the public to stop being worried about it.”

The Boko Haram insurgency has claimed over 100,000 lives since it began in 2009. Former President Goodluck Jonathan, under whose administration the sect’s operation expanded, employed multiple strategies to deal with the menace, including establishing a new Army division in Maiduguri.

Mr Buhari also moved the headquarters of counter-terrorism efforts to the North-east shortly after assuming office, an approach some security analysts said helped curb the insurgency. The Sambisa forest, now infamous for serving as a major base for Boko Haram, was also largely cleared in the first two years of Mr Buhari in office.

But not many were impressed in the president’s repeated claims that Boko Haram had all but been defeated, despite the fact that attacks had never ceased for a long stretch.

The claim is often echoed amongst top administration officials, as well as top security chief like Mr Buratai.

A military source hinted to PREMIUM TIMES Friday night that the military deliberately pushes out muddled and insufficient information to prevent wider scrutiny of the public.

“This is the new trend: to always release “official report” before the media gets the gist,” the source said, indicating that the complaints over a lack of transparency in military operations against Boko Haram may likely continue for the foreseeable future.

Army spokesperson Texas Chukwu declined comments about the military death toll obtained by PREMIUM TIMES. John Agim, Defence Headquarters spokesperson, said he was not aware of the casualties.

“I am hearing this for the first time,” Mr Agim, a brigadier general, said in a message to PREMIUM TIMES Friday night, before adding that the enquiries should be directed to Mr Chukwu.

In recent weeks, the military has released statements about attacks that seemed to significantly obscure what transpired in the battlefront.

For instance, when soldiers were attacked in Borno and Yobe on July 13 and 14, the military only released a statement acknowledging that attack took place in Borno. But Mr Chukwu, a brigadier-general who released the statement, was silent on the reports that dozens of troops went missing after Boko Haram stormed a base in Yobe.

A mass burial was later conducted for the departed soldiers from last week. It was not immediately clear when those killed this week would be buried, or whether their families have been notified of the fate of their loved ones. The military often complains of communication issues in reaching families for tragic news.

Mr Olubanjo said this was different from the previous approach of the military since Mr Buhari assumed office in May 2015, which prioritised keeping military casualties from the public at all cost.

“Clearly, what they are now doing is to quickly give out half of the information, at most, so the public can then move on with the assumption that that was all that happened,” Mr Olubanjo said. “The media should continue to hold the military to account about the plight of thousands of brave citizens who are sacrificing their comfort and now frequently their lives fighting an insurgency they did not create.”

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