At least 16 Nigerian soldiers are missing following clashes with Boko Haram militants in the Lake Chad area, military and militia sources told AFP on Tuesday, November 6.
The incident began when gunmen in several trucks attacked a military base and a local market in the town of Kukawa late on Monday, briefly forcing troops out of the base.
“Our soldiers engaged the terrorists in a fierce battle following the attack,” a military officer told AFP from Maiduguri, the regional capital which is about 180 kilometres (110 miles) south of Kukawa.
“So far, 16 soldiers are missing but search teams are combing the general area to locate them,” said the officer, speaking on condition of anonymity.
There were no immediate official reports of casualties but a civilian militia group confirmed that 16 soldiers were missing and also said one civilian had been killed in the crossfire.
Islamic State claims responsibility for Kukawa attack
Later claiming responsibility for the attack, Islamic State said in an online statement that “soldiers of the caliphate” launched a large attack on Kukawa and gained control of the town after clashes with “15 apostates.”
ISIS claimed a member of the “African Crusader Alliance” was killed in the clashes, possibly a reference to the Multinational Joint Task Force, which brings together troops from Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria to fight Boko Haram.
Other translations of the statement and an accompanying release from ISIS propaganda agency Amaq said 15 soldiers were killed.
Buildings including a barracks and two military vehicles were burned before the militants withdrew the following morning, taking weapons and ammunition with them, the ISIS statement claimed.
Attacks on military bases increase
Boko Haram has lately intensified its armed campaign, launching a number of major assaults in Nigeria’s remote northeast region. Attacks on military bases have been on the increase, with at least nine others since July, mostly in the northern part of Borno state, near the shores of Lake Chad.
Scores of soldiers have been killed, injured or are missing in the latest wave of attacks, but the military has repeatedly denied or played down losses.
Boko Haram is divided into two factions that have competing goals and operational methods. One, led by Abubakar Shekau, is notorious for suicide bombings and indiscriminate killings of civilians. The other, known as Islamic State West Africa Province and led by Abu Mus’ab Al-Barnawi, largely focuses on attacking military and government targets.
ISWAP is dominant faction around the shores of Lake Chad and has in recent months been blamed for the increasing attacks on military bases in Borno and nearby Yobe state. More radical elements are said to have recently taken over the ISWAP leadership.
The Combatting Terrorism Center at West Point in August estimated that ISWAP has around 3,500 fighters, while the Shekau faction could consist of up to 1,500 militants.
The recent surge undermines repeated claims by the military that the insurgent group has been defeated, and Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari’s insistence that Boko Haram is a spent force as he gears up for elections next year.
The jihadist insurgency is in its ninth year and has left more than 27,000 people dead and displaced 2.6 million. Although Boko Haram no longer controls the swathes of territory in northeast Nigeria it did at its 2014 height, its militants still pose a threat to the region.
With reporting from AFP