By Akanimo Sampson
Boko Haram and Islamic State’s West Africa Province (ISWAP) terrorists have allegedly killed nine Nigerian soldiers, with 20 others reportedly missing in fierce fight in the bleeding Borno, State axis of North-Eastern Nigeria.
The fallen and the missing soldiers belonged to Operation Lafiya Dole, a special security outfit fighting the rampaging Islamic insurgents
The remains of the nine soldiers were reportedly recovered in Gudumbali, the headquarters of Guzamala Local Government Area of Borno State. It is located approximately 125 kilometres north of Maiduguri, the state capital.
This hot spot is a part of the traditional Borno Emirate, bordered by six Local Government Areas: Mobber, Gubio, Nganzal, Monguno, Kukawa and Abadan, and has 10 local government wards- Aduwa, Gudumbali East, Gudumbali West, Guworam, Guzamala East, Guzamala West, kingarwa, Maijari, Moduri, and Wamiri.By the 2006 census, it has a population of 95,648 and the Kanuri ethnic group lives in the local government area. It is one of the 16 local government areas that constitute the Borno Emirate, a traditional state located in Borno.Before this latest attack, the Nigerian Air Force had on Wednesday released video of airstrikes on ISWAP vehicles near Garunda the previous day.
Air Commodore Ibikunle Daramola said in a statement released on Facebook that an Alpha Jet aircraft on an ‘’armed reconnaissance mission along the Gudumbali-Zari-Garunda axis spotted two ISWAP gun trucks emerging from Jumaacheri settlement heading towards Garunda. The attack aircraft tracked the two gun trucks as they attempted to evade detection by driving into foliage.’’
The Alpha Jet engaged one of the vehicles in successive passes ‘’leading to the neutralisation of some of the ISWAP occupants’’ and the vehicle ‘’was later seen engulfed in flames as a result of multiple mini-explosions of the on-board ammunition’’, Daramola said.
Adding, he said the second vehicle was immobilised after its occupants had abandoned it under a tree.
The menacing jihadist group known as Boko Haram began its bloody attacks in the troubled North-Eastern Nigeria in 2009, and it has since spread into neighboring Niger, Chad and Cameroon, prompting a regional military response.
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 and Ba Idrisa, as leader. Despite releasing several videos featuring ISWAP since, ISIS has not yet made a public statement confirming the change.
On September 10, the United States added Ba Idrisa to its Specially Designated Global Terrorist list. The US Treasury Department sanctions listing named him as Abu Abdullah Idris bin Umar Al-Barnawi and ‘’Ba Idrisa’’ and said that he was born in Maiduguri between 1989 and 1994. The listing did not specify which group he belongs to.The US assesses that Boko Haram and ISWAP have been responsible for more than 35,000 deaths since 2011. More than two million people have been displaced, sparking a dire humanitarian crisis in the region.
The death of the nine soldiers and 20 missing others followed a fierce battle between the troops and Boko Haram insurgents who were said to have planned a massive attack in the axis. The soldiers were reportedly ambushed by the terrorists in a village called Granda, engaging them overnight from Monday until the early hours of Tuesday.
The troops were said to be closely supported with air warfare by the Air Component of the Operation Lafiya Dole.
Sources told Channels Television that some of the soldiers later fled, leading to the overpowering of the military base during which nine soldiers got killed in battle. They added that seven out of the fallen soldiers were slaughtered as the insurgents beat a retreat.
Though the bodies of the slain soldiers have since been evacuated and deposited at the military hospital in Maiduguri, eyewitnesses’ report said the insurgents carted away a fuel tanker and other vehicles of different brands.
But it is not clear if the terrorists abducted some of the missing soldiers as claimed, as only the outcome of a search party and a headcount would determine that. The ambushed battalion had just been deployed to Gudumbali to commence a new operational strategy code-named Super Camp.
The Nigerian Army adopted this strategy, arguably, based on its previous garrison town system. The strategy entails military personnel withdrawing from smaller bases in towns and villages, concentrating forces in super camps which are more-easily defended from ISWAP attacks.
The strategy reduces the risk of both military casualties and materiel losses, it also reduces the Nigerian Army’s ability to combat ISWAP in rural areas and gives the militants more freedom of movement, Jacob Zenn, adjunct assistant professor at Georgetown University and senior fellow at The Jamestown Foundation recently noted. The concentration of forces enables mobile counter-insurgency raids, but those military movements themselves present ambush opportunities for ISWAP.Allowing ISWAP greater freedom of movement also enables it to develop its political ambitions, expand its ISIS-style proto-state activity, and control economic activity.Perhaps, the drawbacks of the super camp strategy became apparent on August 21, when ISWAP fighters reportedly entered Gubio and Magumeri unopposed, taking control of both towns and burning government buildings.Governor Babagana Zulum later expressed concern about the strategy, warning that ‘’the absence of the Nigerian military in a particular place will create a vacuum’’ that insurgents could exploit.Soldiers withdrew from Gudumbali last December after ISWAP fighters had repeatedly attacked troops in the town. On December 4, ISWAP fighters attacked a military base in Gudumbali, sparking a fierce firefight in which two soldiers were injured.
Ten days later, ISWAP militants again attacked Gudumbali, with ISIS claiming five soldiers were killed and others injured. The Nigerian Army said troops had repelled an attack, but that one soldier was killed and another wounded in the firefight. Other reports said a dozen or more troops died.
While it was gathered that the insurgents had sent out spies around the military base who pretended to be farmers, only for the attack to happen, the Nigerian Army authorities have yet to confirm the incident and the casualty figure.
On September 4, ISWAP fighters killed at least three Nigerian soldiers and a police officer in attacks in Gajiram, around 50 km south of Gudumbali. ISIS claimed 10 soldiers were killed and others were injured.
That came just days after at least three Nigerian soldiers were killed in an ISWAP ambush between Gajiram and Monguno on August 30. Two military sources told AFP that eight troops were killed, but the Nigerian Army later said that only three were killed and eight others injured. ISIS propaganda agency Amaq later released a video that it said showed the ambush.In an incident attributed to Boko Haram, four people were killed and 21 women were abducted when militants attacked Gajiram on August 25, Daily Trustreported.
On August 24 and 25, ISIS claimed ISWAP fighters had targeted soldiers in Niger in two IED attacks in the Lake Chad area. Late July saw the deadliest incident in recent months, when 25 Nigerian and Chadian soldiers were killed in clashes with ISWAP fighters near Baga that left at least 40 insurgents dead, AFP reported.The area around Baga has been contested since late last December, when ISWAP fighters overran military and naval bases in and around the town, which is on the shores of Lake Chad, around 70 km east of Gudumbali. One base that housed MNJTF troops was recaptured weeks later, but Baga itself and a separate naval base on Lake Chad remained under ISWAP control in August, according to AFP sources.