Muslim militants have killed up to 30 soldiers in an attack on a military base in northeast Nigeria in one of the biggest attacks of its kind this year, security sources said on Saturday.
Thursday’s attack by suspected members of the Islamic State in West Africa (ISWA) was on a base in Zari village in the north of Borno State.
In 2016, ISWA split from Boko Haram, the militant group that has killed more than 30,000 people in the region since 2009, when it launched an insurgency to create an Islamic caliphate.
The Zari attack highlights the challenge to secure the country’s northeast, months ahead of an election in February next year in which security looks set to be a campaign issue.
“The battle lasted for about two hours and our colleagues fought them, but things became bad before the fighter jets arrived,” a military source said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “We lost about 30 of our soldiers and about 10 were wounded.”
Another source, who also did not want to be named, said that 20 to 30 troops were killed in a surprise attack.
Details only emerged days later, as the attack occurred in a remote area near the border with Niger.
The attack, in the state’s Guzamala Local Government Area, is the latest blow to Nigeria’s efforts to defeat insurgencies by Boko Haram and ISWA.
Earlier this week, Reuters reported that Nigerian government officials had ordered thousands of displaced people to return to Guzamala, an area considered by aid agencies to be unsafe, as pressure mounts to show progress in the war against the insurgents ahead of the presidential election.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, a former general, won the 2015 election after vowing to crush Muslim militants. He plans to seek a second term.
In July, the fourth commander in 14 months was named to lead the fight against the militants after a number of embarrassing defeats, despite the government having said since late 2015 that the militants in the region had been defeated.
In mid-July, 20 Nigerian soldiers went missing following a clash with militants in the Bama area of Borno.
Military sources have said that the troops are feared dead.
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