Boko Haram insurgents in camouflage military uniform attacked a Nigerian Army camp in Borno State on Thursday, killing at least one officer and 30 soldiers while two officers and 17 soldiers were seriously wounded.
Scores of Boko Haram fighters carried out the attack on the military unit in Zari, a small community north of Maiduguri and near the border with Niger.
They stormed the unit in 12 gun trucks, accompanied by other fighters who came on foot, at about 4:30 p.m. on Thursday.
The details were disclosed to PREMIUM TIMES by reliable sources who sought strict anonymity for fears they might be sanctioned by authorities.
The sources said the gallant Nigerian troops initially fought to repel the terrorists but that their effort failed at a point and the insurgents broke into the camp after about an hour of exchange of gunfire.
An unknown number of troops could still not be accounted for as at Saturday morning, our sources said.
A search and rescue operation is currently underway in conjunction with troops from the 145 Battalion, this website learnt.
The wounded officers and men were evacuated to the Nigerian Army 7 Division Medical Services and Hospital in Maiduguri.
Two of our sources said the terrorists made away with armoured personnel carriers, anti-aircraft guns, water tanker, utility trucks, ambulances and other equipment.
They also burnt satellite communication equipment and destroyed makeshift tents inside the camp, the sources said.
Military authorities were still trying to ascertain Boko Haram casualties as at Saturday morning, it was learnt.
It is not immediately clear whichof the two Boko Haram factions carried out the attack.
The Abu-Mus’ab Al-Barnawi faction of the dreaded sect is known to target military formations.
Texas Chukwu, a brigadier-general and Nigerian Army chief spokesperson did not return PREMIUM TIMES’ requests for comments after several hours on Saturday.
The Army confirmed the attack occurred in a statement late Friday, but Onyema Nwakchukwu — a spokesperson for the theatre command in Maiduguri— only said soldiers killed many Boko Haram insurgents when they repelled the attack.
Mr Nwachukwu, a colonel, told PREMIUM TIMES he did not immediately have details of military casualties.
“I am only aware of aerial bombardment and the response of the ground troops that left many Boko Haram fighters killed,” Mr Nwachukwu said by telephone Saturday afternoon.
But I am not aware of soldiers’ casualties and I would not have such information until it gets to my desk.”
John Agim, a brigadier-general and spokesperson for the Defence Headquarters, directed all enquiries about the attack to Mr Chukwu.
The Nigerian Air Force said it launched aerial bombardment of Boko Haram positions during its response to the attack, and uploaded a short video clip of fleeing terrorists who it said were neutralised.
The Zari invasion is the deadliest against a military unit since Boko Haram resumed its attacks against military formations in July.
Scores of Nigerian troops were killed in successive attacks between mid and late July, raising fresh concerns about a resurgent sect amongst top military chiefs.
The Chief of Army Staff Tukur Buratai initially responded to the killings by visiting the front lines and ordering a reshuffling of commanders.
A few days later, the Army chief followed up with a threat to senior military officers overseeing the counter-insurgency operations, warning them of grave consequences should there be another case of soldiers yielding positions to terrorists during attacks.
Meanwhile, the latest tragedy has sparked concerns across military units where news of the attacks has reached.
“Nigerian soldiers joined the military to defend their fatherland and not to be murdered because of corruption, incompetence and deceit of Nigerian people by military chiefs,” said an Army general who is not on active deployment in the northeast but has heard of the development.
The officer feared the Buhari administration is not making enough progress against Boko Haram.
“Rather, what is being done is to suppress information getting out and intimidating personnel with threat of court martial and mutiny,” the senior officer said under strict anonymity.