Nigerian soldiers intercepted a group of Boko Haram fighters on Friday, December 7, near a military base in northeast Nigeria, triggering a fierce gun battle that killed three civilians, security sources told AFP.
A soldier was injured in the fight, which happened in Jakana village, around 30 km (20 miles) from the Borno state capital, Maiduguri.
On Saturday, military sources said the latest incident saw troops fight a two-hour battle with fighters from the Islamic State West Africa Province faction of Boko Haram from 6:00 p.m. (1700 GMT) on Friday.
“It was an intense fight. Our troops saw them passing near the village and confronted them,” a senior military officer told AFP on condition of anonymity.
“The terrorists were obviously heading toward the bush to congregate and launch an attack somewhere. One soldier was injured and three civilians caught up in the fight were killed.”
A member of a civilian militia assisting the military said the jihadists fired at troops with anti-aircraft guns and rocket-propelled grenades.
“The terrorists did not intend to attack, they fought soldiers to defend themselves and escape,” he added.
Friday’s fighting disrupted traffic along the main road between Maiduguri and Damaturu, the capital of neighbouring Yobe state.
Boko Haram is active in the area and have on several occasions barricaded the road, killing motorists and burning vehicles. Jakana lies near a route linking an ISWAP base in the Buni Yadi district of Yobe and its camps in the Konduga forest area of Borno.
Boko Haram attacks intensify
The fighting underlined the persistent threat to troops in the remote region, which has seen more than 20 attacks on military bases since July, and a significant upsurge over the last fortnight. Most attacks on the military are blamed on ISWAP, or claimed as ISWAP attacks by ISIS.
On Thursday and Friday, two military bases were attacked in the Rann and Bama areas of Borno.
On December 4, fighters from the Islamic State West Africa Province launched an assault on a military base in Gudumbali town in Borno state, sparking a fierce firefight in which two soldiers were injured.
On December 3, ISWAP fighters attacked a military base in Mallam Fatori, a Borno state town near the borders with Niger and Chad. One soldier was killed and several others were injured in the attack.
On December 1, an ISWAP attack in the Yobe state village of Buni Gari left eight soldiers dead, the Nigerian army said, while ISIS claimed ISWAP fighters killed 17 soldiers.
The same day, ISIS claimed ISWAP killed eight Nigerian soldiers and wounded 17 others in an attack near Gamboru in the Lake Chad area, close to the border with Cameroon. The Nigerian Army said that it captured weapons and stores during “offensive patrols” in the area, but did not mention army casualties.
The military November 30 lashed out at what it said was “deliberate and concerted efforts to mislead the public,” saying that some media outlets were “creating erroneous impression of the Nigerian Army through inaccurate and false publication of casualty figures.”
The military has even threatened legal action against organisations for publishing unofficial casualty figures.
Boko Haram split into two factions in mid-2016 over ideological differences. One is led by Abu Mus’ab Al-Barnawi and largely focuses on attacking military and government targets, while the other, led by Abubakar Shekau, is notorious for suicide bombings and indiscriminate killings of civilians.
ISIS central gave its formal backing to the Barnawi faction, which is known as Islamic State West Africa Province. It has lately intensified its armed campaign, launching a number of major assaults on military targets in Borno and neighbouring Yobe state amid signs of a takeover by more hardline leaders.
Borno and Yobe states, along with nearby Adamawa state, have born the brunt of nine years of jihadist violence that has claimed 27,000 lives and forced 1.8 million people to flee their homes.
Last week, President Muhammadu Buhari traveled to N’Djamena to meet leaders from Chad, Niger and Cameroon to discuss how to deal with the surge in violence.
The leaders “expressed the crucial need to change their modus operandi in the fight against Boko Haram” and urged the international community “to support their efforts in the fight against terrorism in the region” in a joint statement after the talks.
Buhari is under pressure to show his administration is winning the fight against Boko Haram ahead of a presidential election in February at which he will seek a second term in office.
With reporting from AFP