It is an especially sad day for the Nigerian Army. It’s most efficient fighter has died in battle after surviving deadly onslaughts and dodging bullets for years.
Muhammed Abu-Ali, a lieutenant colonel, died in an ambush laid for his troops by the terrorist Boko Haram sect, PREMIUM TIMES learnt.
Fourteen Boko Haram insurgents and four other soldiers died in the attack, the army said.
Mr. Abu Ali, commanding officer of 272 Tank Battalion, is reputed as the army’s bravest commander and fighter in Nigeria’s ongoing anti-terrorism war.
Last year, he bagged accelerated promotion for his gallantry and efficiency on the battlefield.
Highly-placed military officials with knowledge of the battle that claimed the officer and his colleagues informed this newspaper of the development.
One of the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the attack occurred at Mallam Fatori, a major Boko Haram stronghold on the northernmost tip of Borno State, on Friday evening.
The source said Mr. Abu-Ali was hit by several bullets as he tried to reinforce troops to repel an ongoing attack in the town.
A few hours earlier, Boko Haram launched a sustained attack on the troops of Operation Lafiya Dole.
As the battled raged, Mr. Ali recognised an immediate need for reinforcement. But his team was met by another group of terrorists while making its way back to the battlefront.
Mr. Ali was killed in the firefight that ensued, the source said
The attack also left six other soldiers dead, while Boko Haram lost 14 of its members.
Another source told PREMIUM TIMES that the timing of the attack makes it highly probable that an insider might have provided Boko Haram with intelligence on troops movement.
The source said the Army leadership on Thursday morning withdrew one officer and 49 combatants from Mallam Fatori.
The terrorists struck shortly after the troops withdrew.
“This indicates that the terrorists possibly had advance information of the reduction in the number of troops on the frontline around there,” the source said.
The spokesman of the Nigeria Army, Colonel Sani Kukasheka Usman, who confirmed the incident said four other soldiers also sustained injury during the fight.
PREMIUM TIMES recalls that, in September 9, 2015, Mr. Abu-Ali was granted accelerated promotion by the Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, for his “courage, bravery and exceptional performance.”
An expert in handling armour tanks, Mr. Abu-Ali’s men dubbed him the ‘panacea of Boko Haram’ due to his unmatched bravery in uprooting terrorists.
He was also recognised for the critical roles he played in taking out Boko Haram from many of its strongholds across the Northeast.
The Army spokesman, Sani Usman, a colonel, described him as “hero of our time” during the ceremony which took place in Borno State.
It is not immediately clear if his family has been informed about the development, which has plunged troops on the battlefield into a weekend of mourning, sources said.
The intensity of Boko Haram activities across the beleaguered Northeast has taken an audacious dimension in recent weeks, coming after several months of relative success by the Nigerian troops and their West African counterparts.
As of Saturday afternoon, the soldiers, about 83 in number, are still missing in action, PREMIUM TIMES understands.