Not less than 37 soldiers of the Nigeria Army Special Forces were killed on Tuesday after a deadly ambush by suspected Boko Haram members, PREMIUM TIMES learnt.
The attack took place along the Maiduguri-Damboa highway.
The Nigerian military had on Wednesday confirmed the attack but said only two soldiers died.
The coordinator of the defence military operations, John Enenche, said in a statement that the ambushed troops managed to “wriggle out of the assault to gun down 17 of the Boko Haram attackers”.
Mr Enenche, a major general, said many of the Boko Haram/ISWAP attackers escaped with serious bullet injuries.
The military authorities in Abuja then directed the Theater Commander of Operation Lafiya Dole to “reinforce and dominate” the Damboa-Maiduguri road. Last week, ten soldiers, including a lieutenant, died in an ambush in the area.
Mr Enenche’s claims contrasted with what some of the troops on the frontline are saying.
According to sources familiar with the incident, the military authority is only being economical with facts about the attack.
The sources, mostly serving soldiers in the front lines accused the military authorities of sweeping the sad development “under the carpet”.
A PREMIUM TIMES reporter has sighted gory photographs of the slain soldiers’ bodies piled inside a building.
How the attack happened
A source said “the attack occurred at about 7 p.m. on Tuesday when troops of 25 task force brigade, as well as soldiers from Sector 2 headquarters and those of 402/Special Task Force troops jointly departed the 25 Headquarters location for a fighting patrol along Damboa-Maiduguri road.
“The patrol team suddenly came in contact with an unconfirmed number of Boko Haram terrorists who were lying in ambush between Limanti and Bulabulin villages not far away from Damboa.”
The source said troops fought gallantly to escape the ambush, “but the insurgent kept on engaging them, so bad that the commander, one Colonel Bako, had to call for reinforcement.”
At the end of the fight, many casualties were recorded just as many soldiers were also missing in action, the source added.
“Initially about 27 soldiers were counted dead before more bodies were recovered which brought the death casualty to 37,” the source said.
Sources also revealed that the insurgents also carted away four gun trucks belonging to the Nigeria army.
PREMIUM TIMES presented the above counter claims by troops to Mr Enenche through SMS and WhatsApp messages. He is yet to respond to them.
A similar message was sent to the Nigeria Army spokesman, Sagir Musa, who also did not respond to the quest for clarifications.
Earlier, the Mr Enenche had released a press statement reproduced below.
“On Tuesday 7 July 2020, the troops of 25 Task Force Brigade deployed at Damboa in conjunction with elements of Sector 2 Special Forces while on clearance operations along Damboa -Maiduguri Road, made contact with a Boko Haram/Islamic State’s West Africa Province criminals’ ambush team along their axis of advance.
“Instinctively, the valiant troops outflanked and engaged the criminals with an overwhelming volume of firepower forcing them to withdraw in disarray.
“In the aftermath of the encounter, 17 Boko Haram/Islamic State’s West Africa Province criminals were neutralised as several others were believed to have narrowly escaped with varying degrees of gunshot wounds while the gallant troops equally captured a cache of arms and ammunition
“Regrettably, two valiant soldiers paid the supreme price while four others were wounded in action.
“The wounded soldiers had been evacuated to a military medical facility and are currently responding to treatment.
“The Theatre Commander, Operation Lafiya Dole had been directed to immediately deploy a Special Forces Battalion to reinforce and dominate the Damboa-Bulabulin-Maiduguri axis to completely deny the terrorists any chance of escape during the final assault against them,” he said.
“Members of the general public particularly residents of the area are also requested to remain calm, law-abiding and continue with their routine activities as all necessary measures have been put in by the Theatre Command to ensure all routes are safe for commuting without fear of attack by the criminals.”