LAGOS, Nigeria (AA) – Dozens of Nigerian troops were killed in an ambush by Boko Haram militants in the northeastern Kareto village earlier in the week, according to multiple military sources in Maiduguri, the capital city of the restive Borno State.
“We lost between 80 and 100 soldiers in the ambush because it caught us by surprise and again we were outnumbered and outgunned,” an army source, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue, told Anadolu Agency on Thursday.
He said at least 30 militants were also killed before the troops retreated.
“That figure must have risen after we retreated because Air Force fighter jets later arrived to deal a decisive blow to the militants,” he added.
The ambush occurred on Monday morning. Army spokesman Sani Usman had acknowledged that troops of the 113 battalion had come under militants’ ambush in Kareto, resulting in 24 soldiers, including two officers, sustaining injuries.
“The troops successfully repelled the attack and killed quite a number of the terrorists. The situation has since been brought under control and reinforcements sent. So far our troops had 2 officers and 22 soldiers wounded in action,” Usman had stated in a statement.
But at least three soldiers including an officer caught in the ambush, as well as medical officers at the 7 Division Headquarters Medical Centre in Maiduguri said several of their colleagues had died in the attack.
They said the ambush also involved troops from the 158 battalion of the Nigerian army.
An army battalion often comprises between 300 and 800 soldiers.
“Those injured were being attended to at the medical center. They would soon be transferred to 44 Nigerian Army Reference Hospital in Kaduna,” according to a military medic in Maiduguri who asked not to be named.
An army officer said the two battalions had planned an attack on the Kareto village — a known hideout of the militants — as a launchpad for a wider operation to liberate the Diffa (border) area of the northern Borno state “stretching from Malam Fatori to Damasak which largely remain in the grip of the terrorists”.
“But we ran into a well-coordinated ambush by the terrorists. The engagement lasted for nearly six hours and they deployed heavy weapons like RPGs and 12.57mm antiaircraft guns for fire support,” the officer said.
He said it took the heavy bombardment by the fighter jets to break the ambush.
Another top security source, who asked not to be named, confirmed that soldiers had indeed died in the encounter albeit “not in outlandish numbers”.
“The planned advance on Damasak has been put on hold,” he added.
Efforts to speak with the Nigerian defense headquarters — which coordinates the interagency counterinsurgency campaign in the northeast — proved fruitless.
An email requesting their comment on the emerging information about the ambush was not answered more than 24 hours after it was sent.