At least three soldiers were killed in intense fighting between Nigeria’s army and Islamist militants around a key garrison town in the Lake Chad area, a security source said Wednesday.
The soldiers died when an army vehicle burst into flames after a car filled with explosives rammed into a convoy on Tuesday, January 7, the source told AFP.
“Though there were fewer casualties on the Nigerian troops through Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Devices, many Boko Haram Terrorists were however eliminated during the encounter,” a source said.
In a statement released later on Wednesday, Islamic State said fighters from its West Africa Province affiliate carried out the attack, claiming that a car bomb was detonated inside a Nigerian Army base in Monguno, leading to clashes that “killed eight elements and wounded others, and damaged three armored vehicles.” It said a four-wheel drive vehicle, weapons and ammunition were captured.
Monguno is in the Lake Chad area, around 100 km (62 miles) northeast of Borno state capital Maiduguri. It has been repeatedly attacked by insurgents who have made several failed attempts to overrun the large military Super Camp located just outside the town.
Tuesday’s attack occurred during fighting with ISWAP militants in Monguno, after dozens of fighters aboard several trucks fitted with machine guns attacked the town, AFP reported.
Residents in Monguno said a rocket-propelled grenade struck a refugee camp housing thousands of people, causing a fire that gutted hundreds of tents.
“We still don’t know if anyone was killed in the camp but some people sustained burns,” said Monguno resident Kulo Gana.
AFP later reported Gana as saying that eight people died and 20 were injured.
Citing two residents and a military source, Reuters reported that insurgents posing as military personnel entered Monguno and attacked troops. Around 20 soldiers were killed and nearly 1,000 people left homeless in the attack, according to the report.
Residents also told AFP that militants ambushed buses carrying civilians under military escort outside the town, sparking a gun battle.
Militants stormed a compound housing the offices of aid agencies working in the region. Residents said they launched grenades into the offices, which had been evacuated before the attack.
Soldiers quelled the attacks and put the town on lockdown on Wednesday, with troops stepping up patrols, residents said. Many of the insurgents were killed by soliders, witnesses said.
Just days earlier, Chad completed the withdrawal of 1,200 troops from the region – including hundreds from Monguno – after completing a nine-month mission fighting insurgents in the Lake Chad area which straddles the borders of Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chad. The pullout from the largest base in the region sparked widespread fears of increased insurgent attacks.
The jihadist group known as Boko Haram began its bloody insurgency in northeastern Nigeria in 2009, but it has since spread into neighboring Niger, Chad and Cameroon, prompting a regional military response.
The four countries banded together in the Multinational Joint Task Force to fight the insurgency, with support from civilian defense committees. The MNJTF launched Operation Yancin Tafki in February 2019 with Chad contributing 1,200 troops. A spokesperson said it was aimed at “making islands and other settlements in Lake Chad untenable for Boko Haram Terrorists.” Actions have been conducted in Nigeria and Niger as part of the operation.
Boko Haram split into two factions in mid-2016. One, which is also known as JAS, is headed by long-time leader Abubakar Shekau and 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.
ISWAP largely focuses on attacking military and government targets. Its main area of operations is the Lake Chad area of Nigeria, Chad and Niger, and to a lesser extent Cameroon, but the group has intensified attacks on military locations in west of Maiduguri in recent months.
The U.S. assesses that Boko Haram and ISWAP are responsible for more than 35,000 deaths since 2011. More than two million people have been displaced by the conflict, sparking a dire humanitarian crisis in the region.
With reporting from AFP. This post was updated on January 8 and 9.