Controversy over alleged missing Nigerian soldiers

Troops repel B’Haram assault, neutralise terrorists
The Nigerian Army has denied any of its personnel were missing in an attack by Boko Haram on Saturday.

However, the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reported yesterday: “No fewer than 23 Nigerian soldiers are yet to be accounted for after Boko Haram insurgents ambushed a military convoy at Boboshe village in Bama Local Government Area of Borno.

“Five officers, 18 soldiers and eight trucks were missing after the attack which occurred early on Saturday.

“The military, acting on intelligence, mobilised troops in a convoy of 11 trucks to clear the insurgents from the deserted village. The insurgents were believed to have been those who escaped the ongoing offensive by the military to flush out Boko Haram terrorists in the fringes of Sambisa Forest and the Lake Chad region.

“A competent military source told NAN that the insurgents in the hundreds ambushed the troops, and in the process many of them have been missing. He disclosed that only three of the 11 trucks deployed in the area returned to their base in Maiduguri, after suffering huge loss in the battle with the insurgents.”

NAN quotes the source as saying: “There was a quick response by the army when they received reports that hundreds of the insurgents gathered at Boboshe on the Maiduguri-Konduga-Bama road. The insurgents ambushed the gallant soldiers. Only three of the 11 trucks returned to the base. It is not clear what happened but it was assumed the soldiers were missing following the ambush.”

Also, quoting “security sources”, AFP on Twitter yesterday announced: “Dozens of soldiers feared dead after a Boko Haram attack Saturday on a military base in remote northeast Nigeria.”

But in its rebuttal yesterday, the army dismissed as “untrue” and “misleading” reports of alleged missing soldiers and military vehicles in an attack coordinated by Boko Haram insurgents in Borno, urging people to disregard it.

In a statement in Maiduguri, Director, Army Public Relations, Brig. Gen. Texas Chukwu, said: “The Nigerian Army wishes to state categorically that the report is blown out of proportion by the media. Contrary to the report, the Nigerian Army wishes to put the record straight on the issue and assure members of the public, particularly residents of the northeast, to disregard the report, as their safety is guaranteed.

“The Nigeria Army wishes to state that there was an attempted attack on troops at Kwakwa and Chingori communities in the Bama area of Borno State by suspected Boko Haram terrorists as a result of difficult terrain where our vehicles (were) bogged down.

“The terrorists also attempted to cart away troops’ operational vehicles, but were successfully repelled by our gallant troops with the support of the Nigerian Air Force.”

Chukwu disclosed that the troops killed 22 insurgents, while several others escaped with gunshot wounds. He said efforts were being intensified by the troops to get the fleeing terrorists.

He said one officer and a soldier, who sustained injuries in the attack, were receiving medical attention at a military medical facility, and tasked the media to always verify facts.

“Certain facts must be reported with caution, particularly now that numerous successes have been recorded by the troops in the fight against insurgency,” Chukwu said, urging people to go about their normal businesses, as the army is on top of the situation.

But BBC’s Africa security correspondent, Tomi Oladipo, said: “The news agency, AFP, stands by its report that a second jihadist attack on Nigerian troops in as many days was even more deadly and included an army base being overrun. It adds that hundreds of troops are unaccounted for after the attack.

“The Nigerian military’s dismissive response to this report is typical of its default stance of downplaying or denying losses. It wants to be the sole source of news from the front line, and pits the media as purveyors of unfounded and unverified claims.

“There have been genuine, laudable military successes in this campaign – but the force has also hurt its own credibility with some inaccurate or even untrue accounts. It claims that residents of northeast Nigeria have nothing to fear, yet it restricts media access to certain parts of the region. It wants journalists to trumpet its gains against what it considers a rag-tag militia – but also go silent on the continuing attacks on civilians and soldiers.

“The Nigeria military describes its ‘gallant’ troops as being in high spirits, yet for years we have had multiple accounts from those on the frontline complaining of being ill-equipped and even poorly fed.

“Despite the much-repeated assertion of having defeated Islamist militant group Boko Haram, the insurgency is into its ninth year.”

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