Nigerian soldiers on Sunday faced three separate and daring raids by Boko Haram insurgents on three major towns of Borno State and successfully repelled two of them, the Defence Headquarters has said.
Chris Olukolade, the Director of Defence Information, said the daring attacks on Maiduguri and neighbouring Konduga by insurgents were successfully repelled by soldiers.
While confirming earlier reports by PREMIUM TIMES, the Major General also stated that soldiers securing Monguno, including a “Brigade Commander and some of the troops”, were wounded and had to retreat from the town.
He said an “exclusive coordinated air campaign have taken over from ground forces in Monguno, as troops had to retreat from the location after the Brigade Commander and some of the troops were wounded while repelling terrorists attack on the town today”.
The three-pronged attack by the Boko Haram sect is one of the most daring in recent times as the insurgents, who already control a large part of Borno State, tighten the noose on Maiduguri, the state capital.
The Maiduguri attack
Security sources said the terrorists launched a massive onslaught on the Borno State capital by first attacking an army formation in the town, 243 Battalion, some distance away from the Air Force base.
The troop, our sources said, fought back gallantly, repelling the insurgents and capturing some tanks and other weapons from them.
The fighting continued, deep into the night and extending to Sunday morning, until the insurgents began to retreat. The Commanding Officer of the Battalion, a Colonel Shuaibu, was reportedly shot in the arm.
Our sources said a large number of the terrorists were killed.
In his statement on Sunday evening, Mr. Olukolade said “an extensive cordon and search is ongoing as part of the mopping up operation to determine details of the heavy casualties suffered by the terrorists”.
He added that “scores of the terrorists died in the course of the attack, while many of them were also captured with wounds”.
According to the spokesperson, items recovered from the fleeing insurgents include a Cobra Armoured Vehicle, heavy artillery guns, as well as some machine guns.
“Three Gulf cars loaded with explosives were also destroyed,” he said.
PREMIUM TIMES had reported the attack on Borno as soldiers spoke privately about the operation.
“We had a sleepless night till this (Sunday) morning because these elements tried to enter Maiduguri from Dalwa and Limanti axis but our soldiers were able to repel them,” a senior soldier had said.
“They retreated and took another flank around Njimtilo this morning and our troops have been engaging them there too.”
As the battle between soldiers and insurgents raged, residents of Maiduguri’s 1000 Unit Housing Estate, near Njimtilo, fled their homes towards the city centre. Njimtilo is about 20 kilometres from Maiduguri city centre.
Witnesses said soldiers and members of the local vigilante, called Civilian-JTF, confronted the insurgents as fighter jets of the Nigeria Air Force were deployed.
About 200 people, including insurgents and soldiers, are estimated to have died in the battle.
The Konduga battle
While the Maiduguri battle was on, another group of insurgents stormed Konduga, a town 35km from Maiduguri.
Mr. Olukolade said troops also successfully repelled the insurgents from Konduga “twice” on Sunday, although with some casualties.
“Some of the troops however lost their lives in the series of operations to repel the terrorists today,” he said. “Those that were wounded have been evacuated for appropriate medical treatment.”
Fall of Monguno
Of the three-pronged attacks by the insurgents, the military lost the one at Monguno to the insurgents.
Military insiders said the insurgents arrived at about 2 am on Sunday, parking their Hilux vans deep into the bush, with their headlights on.
Soldiers of the 5 Brigade, who saw the unusual lights, began to shoot in the direction of the vans without knowing that the insurgents had left the vans and advanced close to the Brigade headquarters.
Suddenly, the insurgents began to shoot sporadically. The troop of the Brigade, including those of the Multinational Joint Task Force [MJTF], who were camped at a school inside the barracks after they were dislodged from Baga, engaged the terrorists in a long exchange of gunfire.
The biggest fighting tank owned by the Brigade, known as Shika, killed several insurgents, and wounded several others.
But it was such a long battle that the equipment, which provided cover for ground troops, suddenly ran out of ammunition and begun to withdraw.
As it withdrew, the rifle men behind also retreated, as the insurgents followed in pursuit. In the process, the commander of the Brigade, a Brigadier General Yekini, and a few other soldiers were wounded. It is not clear the number of soldiers and insurgents killed in the attack.
“We could have overpowered the insurgents, but there was no enough ammunition,” an officer, who participated in the battle, told PREMIUM TIMES.
The troop, who retreated from Monguno, are now gathered at the entrance of the headquarters of 7 Division in Maiduguri.
The General Officer Commanding of the Division, Brigadier General M.Y. Ibrahim, is said to have left instruction that the soldiers and officers, including the Commander of the MJTF, dislodged from Baga, Brigadier General E.A. Ransome-Kuti, should be denied entry into the barracks.
“We arrived here since 3 p.m. but they are not allowing us to gain access to the barracks,” an officer said. “We don’t know what is going on.”
PREMIUM TIMES had earlier reported the fall of Monguno after a military source in Maiduguri said on Sunday morning that “we have decimated the idiots (from Maiduguri) but Monguno has fallen”.
Mr. Olukolade, however, said the air operations on Monguno would continue. He also said calm has been restored in Maiduguri and Konduga as operation continues with patrols and surveillance.
The spokesperson also confirmed an earlier statement by an army spokesperson that the 24-hour curfew imposed on Maiduguri during the attacks will end by 6:00 a.m. on Monday.