Boko Haram jihadists at the weekend attacked three military bases in northeast Nigeria, putting the spotlight on insecurity in Nigeria just three months before presidential polls.
On Sunday, fighters from the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) faction attacked a base in Metele, a remote village in northeast Borno state, near the Niger border.
Troops were “dislodged” from the base before it was reclaimed with aerial support, a military officer in the northeast told AFP.
“There are still no details of human or material losses,” said the officer, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorised to speak on the incident.
The same day, jihadists also launched a pre-dawn attack on another base in the town of Gajiram, some 80 kilometres (50 miles) north of the Borno state capital, Maiduguri.
“Soldiers fought off the insurgents after hours of fighting which lasted up to 5:30 am (0430 GMT),” said Kulo Gana, who lives 60 km away in the garrison town of Monguno.
On Saturday, ISWAP fighters attacked a base in the town of Mainok, killing a soldier and seizing a truck from civilian militia fighting the jihadists.
“They faced stiff resistance from soldiers who fought them for an hour before the terrorists withdrew,” said a militia member in the town.
“We lost a soldier in that Mainok attack,” the military officer said.
– Jihadists claim responsibility –
Both Metele and Gajiram have been attacked in the past six months, underlining the persistent threat that Boko Haram poses to the ravaged region.
ISWAP claimed Monday to have killed 42 troops in the Metele and Mainok attacks, according to the SITE Intelligence Group which monitors jihadist activities.
The militant group said it killed “more than 40 Nigerian soldiers” in Metele and two more in Mainok, in addition to carting away “four tanks” and other vehicles and ammunition.
Army spokesman Brigadier General Texas Chukwu told AFP he had “no information” about any attacks. Neither claim could be independently verified.
Attacks on bases have increased in recent months and claims that he military has played down casualties.
The military said it repelled an attack on a base in Kekeno village, near Monguno, on Friday, in the second attempted takeover in two months.
ISWAP, which split from the Abubakar Shekau-led faction in mid-2016, also claimed another attack on a base in Kareto, 150 km north of Maiduguri, last Wednesday.
The attacks have been seen as a sign of a hardline takeover in the faction by more radical lieutenants and have stretched the army at a time when troops are complaining of fatigue.
More than 27,000 people are thought to have been killed in the nine-year insurgency that has triggered a humanitarian crisis and left 1.8 million people without homes.
President Muhammadu Buhari, a former army general who was elected in 2015 on a promise to defeat Boko Haram, is seeking re-election at polls in February.
His government maintains that the insurgency is close to defeat.