Dozens of soldiers were feared dead after a Boko Haram attack on a military base in remote northeast Nigeria, security sources said on Monday.
Islamist militants overran the base in Jilli village, in the Geidam area of Yobe state, on Saturday evening, a day after a separate attack on troops in neighbouring Borno state.
There has been no official comment about Saturday’s attack but one military source told AFP: “So far we have lost 31 soldiers, including three officers.
“Two vigilantes were also killed in the attack,” he said, adding that 24 soldiers were injured and being treated in hospital.
A civilian militia source in the Borno state capital, Maiduguri, added: “I don’t have an exact toll of those killed.
“But yesterday the dead casualties were brought in three trucks to Maimalari military barracks here in Maiduguri. This means the casualty toll is high.”
The militia member said Boko Haram fighters in military uniform and driving vehicles in army colours were allowed into the base.
“The soldiers mistook them for their colleagues from Gubio and opened the gates to the base. This was what led to all this loss,” he added.
More than 700 soldiers were at the base at the time and hundreds of them were unaccounted for as of Sunday.
The military source, who asked to remain anonymous because he was not authorised to talk to the media, said “a number of the missing soldiers have showed up”, without specifying a figure.
The attack is suspected to have been carried out by fighters loyal to factional leader Abu Mus’ab al-Barnawi, who is backed by the Islamic State group.
Meanwhile a search and rescue operation was understood to be ongoing in the Bama area of Borno state for 18 soldiers and five officers missing since Friday’s attack near Bama.
Local security operatives said seasonal rains were hampering the search.
Army spokesman Brigadier General Texas Chukwu said the Boko Haram attack near Bama was “successfully repelled” and dismissed reports of missing troops.
Twenty-two jihadists were killed while one soldier was injured, he added.
At least 20,000 people have been killed in Boko Haram violence and more than two million others made homeless in northeast Nigeriasince 2009.
The government and military has repeatedly maintained Boko Haram is now a spent force and either weakened to the point of defeat or even defeated.
President Muhammadu Buhari indicated last week the conflict was over and northeast Nigeria was now in a “post-conflict stabilisation phase”.
But raids on military bases, attacks on security checkpoints and suicide attacks continue.
International aid agencies working in the region say insecurity in hard-to-reach rural areas means they are unable to help people in desperate need.