BY KINGSLEY OMONOBI, WITH AGENCY REPORT
Army authorities disclosed, yesterday, that 15 soldiers and a lieutenant have been killed by Boko Haram terrorists along the Baga-Maiduguri Road in Borno State, while 150 sect members were killed by troops of the 7th Division during a fierce battle with the insurgents last weekend.
Defence sources, however, contradicted the casualty figure, saying at least 40 soldiers were killed and 65 others missing in a deadly ambush by the suspected members of Boko Haram.
Confirming the incident, Director of Army Public Relations, Brigadier General Ibrahim, stated that on September 12, 2013, troops from 81 Battalion under 7th Division of the Nigerian Army acting on intelligence report gathered that the insurgent had regrouped at Kafiya forest and were planning to launch an attack.
“Following the information, the troops launched an attack and destroyed the enemy camp, and during the encounter that lasted several hours, the troops killed 150 insurgents while one Lieutenant and 15 soldiers lost their lives”.
According to the Army spokesman, the enemy camp was well fortified with anti-aircraft and anti-tank guns mounted on vehicles.
The Army spokesman also disclosed that one Abba Goroma, one of the most wanted insurgent commanders, on whose head the sum of N10 million was placed as bounty, was killed in the encounter.
The Federal Government had last year placed a N10 million bounty on Goroma for any information leading to his whereabouts.
Asked to comment on reports on social media that about 40 military personnel were killed and 65 of them were missing as a result of the ambush, General Attahiru dismissed the report, saying it was a fabrication insisting that only 15 soldiers and an officer were killed.
An online publication quoting multiple defence sources, however, claimed that 40 soldiers were killed by the sect members while 65 others were missing. The report stated that the army authorities were miffed by the incident and have ordered an investigation into the suspected operation blunder that gave the militants such an upper hand. It quoted army officials as saying that the commanding officer of the unit that carried out the operation has now been removed from his post.
The casualty, one of the heaviest for the military in its campaign against the militant group in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states, was considered a classic case of operational and communication failure.
According to the report, a detachment of soldiers under the 134 Battalion of the 12 Brigade under the Multi National Joint Task Force, MNJTF, stationed in Kangarwa village in Kukawa local government, had conducted a reconnaissance to gather intelligence around the area, during which they established the presence of previously unnoticed Boko Haram camps.
The soldiers were said to have returned to their base and filed a report recommending aerial bombardment of the area, preparatory for a ground operation by troops.
But that plan was cancelled at the final minutes by an unnamed top official without formal communication to the more than 100 troops that had already advanced on the area.
“Due to lack of communication, the troop ran into the terrorists without knowing that the aerial bombardment had been cancelled and they were caught unawares,” one of the sources said.
The soldiers were trapped in the ambush under heavy fire from the militants who had surrounded the area, leaving at least 40 soldiers killed. 65 others have remained missing, other sources said.
The insurgents reportedly confiscated a huge cache of weapons from the soldiers after the attack.
The attack came less than two months after a similar one on August 4, which also resulted in heavy casualty following a surprise attack by Boko Haram on a camp at Malam Fatori.