Boko Haram militants seized a military base in northeast Nigeria for several hours before being themselves ‘dislodged’ by reinforcements, security sources and residents said on Saturday.
Fighters from the Islamic State West Africa Province faction of Boko Haram in trucks and on motorcycles stormed into the base in the town of Magumeri, around 40 km (25 miles) northwest of Borno state capital Maiduguri late on Friday, May 3, AFP reported.
The militants overran the base, holding it for several hours, and hauling away weapons before they were forced out.
“The terrorists dislodged troops from the base after an intense fight,” a military officer told AFP.
“We lost weapons and equipment to the terrorists but it is not clear if there was any human loss,” said the officer, who asked not to be named.
The militants arrived in the town around 5 p.m. and engaged troops in an hour-long fight before they “gained the upper hand and chased the troops away,” militia leader Gremah Kaka told AFP.
“The insurgents overpowered the soldiers and forced them to flee into the bush,” he said.
Kaka said the jihadists stayed in the base for “more than four hours” before they were dislodged by reinforcements from another base in Gubio, 40 km further north.
A Friday Naija News report cited two sources as saying the military base in Magumeri had been overrun by Boko Haram fighters, but did not attribute the attack to ISWAP specifically, and on Saturday, Sahara Reporters quoted a security source as saying “both soldiers and Civilian JTF [mitilia] members were overpowered as the attack went on” and that “many were killed and an unverified number wounded.”
In a Friday statement, ISIS claimed ISWAP fighters clashed with Nigerian army personnel who were stationed in “Mamri,” likely meaning Magumeri. ISIS claimed 10 soldiers were killed and a four-wheel-drive vehicle, weapons and ammunition were captured. On Saturday, ISIS published images including graphic pictures of dead bodies of what it said were ISWAP fighters attacking “Mamri.”
Citing several unnamed sources in Nigeria, Reuters reported that the ISWAP fighters fled after the military called in air support and reinforcements from Gubio.
A week earlier on April 26, ISWAP fighters attacked Nigerian soldiers in Sabon Gari, near Biu, around 135 km southwest of Maiduguri. ISIS claimed 10 soldiers were killed and another captured. Three days later, security sources told AFP at least five soldiers were killed and around 30 were missing.
The Nigerian military described reporting on Sabon Gari incident as “unsubstantiated” and that the “fake report” was the handiwork of “Boko Haram sympathizers.” Colonel Ado Isa said there were “only minor casualty on own troops,” without specifying casualties.
The Nigerian military rarely comments on the ongoing counter-insurgency operations, and tends to downplay the insurgents’ effectiveness, rarely acknowledging engagements and seemingly understating casualties and equipment losses.
Four days later, the bodies of 14 men were discovered near Monguno, around 100 km northeast of Maiduguri in the Lake Chad area where ISWAP is the dominant insurgent group.
Since then, ISIS has claimed ISWAP attacks in Baga and Malam Fatori, and ISWAP attacks were featured in the weekly ISIS magazine al-Naba.
The jihadist group known as Boko Haram began its decade-long bloody insurgency in northeastern Nigeria in 2009 but it has since spread into neighboring Niger, Chad and Cameroon, prompting a regional military response.
More than 27,000 people have been killed and two million others displaced, sparking a dire humanitarian crisis in the region. On April 30, the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large and Coordinator for Counterterrorism Nathan A. Sales said that the U.S. assesses that Boko Haram and ISWAP “have been responsible for over 35,000 deaths since 2011.”
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, as leader. ISIS has not yet made a public statement confirming the change.
The Multinational Joint Task Force, a regional counter-insurgency force comprising personnel from Chad, Cameroon, Niger, and Nigeria, launched Operation Yancin Tafki on February 21 to battle the insurgents. Antigha has said the cross-border operation is aimed at “making islands and other settlements in Lake Chad untenable for Boko Haram Terrorists.”
With reporting from AFP. This post was updated on May 4.