Soldiers have thwarted another Boko Haram attack on an army base in northeast Nigeria, the latest in a series of operations against military targets in the remote region.
Scores of fighters attacked the base in Damasak, in the far north of Borno state, on Wednesday, September 12, firing heavy artillery in an apparent bid to overrun it.
A senior military officer, who asked to remain anonymous because he is not authorized to speak to the media, said the fighters were heavily armed.
“The terrorists attacked the base around 6 p.m. (1700 GMT) but they met stiff resistance from troops who engaged them in hours-long battle,” he added.
After about four hours of fighting the militants were “beaten” and forced to withdraw after a fighter jet bombarded their positions, he said.
There was no immediate indication of casualties on either side.
Nigerian Army spokesman Brigadier General Texas Chukwu confirmed troops from 145 battalion were fighting the jihadists, calling the battle “fierce.”
“The troops are dealing with the terrorists,” he said on Wednesday evening.
Chukwu’s statement was a departure from the military’s repeated denials of Boko Haram attacks in recent weeks, which have seen dozens of troops killed and weapons stolen.
Update September 13 Chukwu on Thursday said that seven soldiers were injured during the incident, The Nation reported.
“Seven members of the terrorists group were neutralised during the encounter while others fled into the nearby bush,” he added.
String of Boko Haram attacks on military bases
Boko Haram has intensified its armed campaign in recent weeks, and has launched a number of major assaults on military bases in the remote northeast region, undermining repeated claims by the military that the jihadist group has been defeated.
On Saturday, a regional fighting force set up to stop cross-border attacks helped to repel another attack on a base near Baga, on the shores of Lake Chad.
Last Friday, a base was sacked in the town of Gudumbali, around 80 km (50 miles) from Damasak. Thousands of civilians were forced to flee and Boko Haram temporarily seized the town before withdrawing the next day.
On August 30, 48 soldiers were killed in an attack on a military base in Zari, around 30 km (20 miles) from Damasak on the border with Niger.
The jihadists are thought to have attacked the base in Zari from nearby Garunda village, where 17 soldiers were killed in a Boko Haram attack on a military base on August 8. Another 14 soldiers were injured in that attack.
On July 26, Boko Haram militants stormed a military base on the outskirts of Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state.
Boko Haram is divided into two factions that have competing goals and operational methods. One led by Abu Mus’ab Al-Barnawi, largely focuses on attacking the military. Known as Islamic State West Africa Province, it is apparently in talks with the Nigerian government. The other, led by Abubakar Shekau, is notorious for suicide bombings and indiscriminate killings of civilians.
The recent attacks on military targets are believed to have been carried out by the Barnawi faction.
Boko Haram no longer controls swathes of territory in northeast Nigeria as it did at the height of its insurgency in 2014, yet Boko Haram militants still pose a threat to the region. The insurgency is in its ninth year and has left 20,000 people dead and displaced 2.6 million.
Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari has insisted that the Islamists are a spent force as he gears up for elections next year. Months away from presidential polls, Buhari is under pressure to defend his track record as he battles insecurity across Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country.
Insurgency and military operations in Lake Chad region displace 2.4 million people
With reporting from AFP