Islamist fighters killed 23 Nigerian soldiers in an ambush on a key road in the restive northeast of the country, security sources said Wednesday.
Two sources told AFP the troops were attacked on Tuesday by jihadists linked to the Islamic State group some 40 kilometers (25 miles) outside regional capital Maiduguri.
“Yesterday a military convoy was ambushed by terrorists at Bulabulin [village] along the Maiduguri-Damboa Road,” the first source said. “Twenty-three soldiers were killed, two wounded and an unconfirmed number missing in action.”
The second source said the convoy was on its way back to Maiduguri when it came under fire. “The troops were returning from patrol and clearance operation against the terrorists when they were attacked,” the source said. “The troops were able to repel the attack with reinforcements but they suffered casualties. At least 23 troops died.”
Both sources were talking on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to talk to the media.
Nigerian Military Disputes Number of Casualties
The Nigerian military confirmed the deadly ambush but said in a statement that only two soldiers were killed and four wounded. It also said 17 insurgents were killed in the subsequent fighting.
Nigeria’s army has repeatedly claimed that the insurgency has been largely defeated and frequently underplays its losses.
The decade-long conflict in northeast Nigeria has killed 36,000 people and forced around two million from their homes.
Fighters from the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) splintered from the main Boko Haram group in 2016 and have become a dominant force.
ISWAP has focused most of its attacks on military targets but has increasingly launched bloody assaults on civilians in recent months. The group has been blamed for setting up checkpoints along key highways to capture and kill travelers.
Many of the roads around the region have become too dangerous for travel, making it difficult for aid groups to reach the estimated 7.8 million people in need of urgent assistance.