The military said yesterday that it had killed no fewer than 50 suspected Boko Haram members fleeing towards Cameroon. It also said 15 soldiers and five civilians died in the battle.
The military has stepped up an offensive in the volatile northeast in the past few days, after Boko Haram fighters, armed with grenade launchers and anti-aircraft guns, attacked an army barracks in Bama, Borno State, on Friday.
Defence spokesman Brig. Gen. Chris Olukolade said the military had targeted insurgents behind Friday’s Bama attack and that 20 vehicles used in that raid had been spotted from the air and destroyed.
“Although a good number of the insurgents escaped with bullet wounds, while some have been arrested, over 50 of them died in the course of exchange of fire with ground troops in the operations to apprehend fleeing terrorists,” he said.
“The military has lost 15 soldiers, mostly from the attack while some died during the pursuit.
“A total of five civilians also died during the attack. Intensive cordon and search operations are still ongoing to fish out the insurgents who might be lurking around communities in the area.
“Meanwhile, families affected by the attacks have been relocated to other military locations.”
A military source said: “Contrary to what the public was being fed with, the troops were the ones who ambushed the insurgents.
“We got intelligence report that they might strike and we had to prepare ahead for them. Immediately they succeeded in finding their way to the vicinity of the barracks, we ambushed them.
“Those arrested are undergoing investigation. But those in the barracks were evacuated because of likely reprisals by the insurgents on civilian targets.
“We will rid this axis of insurgency in the next few weeks. We have launched a 24-hour air and ground raid against the insurgents.”
The deadly strike by the insurgents along the axis was the second in two months.
Armed with rocket propelled grenades and Improvised Explosive Devises (IEDs), Boko Haram insurgents had in October invaded a military checkpoint.
They took over the Bama-Banki Junction road leading to the Republic of Cameroon.
The insurgents also set ablaze the entire houses, filling stations and shops within the vicinity.
Some details on the toll from the Bama attack emerged from Maiduguri Teaching Hospital, the main mortuary for the region.
An attendant told Reuters that Friday’s attack left no fewer than 20 soldiers dead.
“There is no space left in the mortuary because the military brought in more than 20 dead soldiers killed in the Bama attack,” the mortuary attendant, who declined to be named because he was not authoritised to speak, said.
“These four were left on the floor as we’re waiting for space to be created before we put them in,” he added, gesturing to four bodies wrapped in shrouds.
Borno State Governor Ibrahim Shettima yesterday briefed President Goodluck Jonathan at the Presidential Villa on the attack by Boko Haram on the Nigerian Army’s 202 Tank Battalion in Bama.
Speaking with State House Correspondents after the meeting, the governor denied the allegation that the barracks was deserted.
He said: “Women and children normally during crisis are moved to safer locations but the soldiers are on ground; they are right now in Bama and are doing their job very well.
“I am just here to brief Mr. President of what transpired in Bama. I believe that very soon this issue will be frontally addressed and it will be a thing of the past.”