The Nigerian military has elected to keep silent on news reports at the weekend that the Islamist extremist group Boko Haram seized control of Malam Fatori, a Borno town near the Nigerien border, leading soldiers to flee into the country.
The insurgents were said to have taken control of Malam Fatori after fighting on Wednesday and Thursday, a senior official in the Niger town of Diffa near Nigeria told AFP on the condition of anonymity.
The fighting killed dozens and wounded about 30 people in the commercial hub known for fishing and farming, the Anfani radio station in Diffa reported.
“The town of Malam Fatori was taken by Boko Haram after violent fighting with the Nigerian army overnight Wednesday to Thursday,” said the official in Diffa, where thousands of refugees from the conflict have fled to.
According to the official, 315 Nigerian soldiers fled over the border to Diffa. Thirteen who were wounded were treated in a Diffa hospital, while the others have been repatriated.
The official’s version of events differed from the one given by a Nigerian senator, who on Thursday spoke of the attack but did not say that the town had been taken.
Lawan however also said that the soldiers were later forced to flee after being overpowered by the insurgents. He said that 21 civilians were killed.
Boko Haram has killed thousands in its five-year insurgency in Nigeria, and it has in recent months taken control of a growing number of areas in the country’s North-east.
It has occasionally carried out cross-border attacks, and another such raid occurred on Saturday in Cameroun.
In that attack, Boko Haram members attacked a Cameroun border town, leading to six hours of fighting that killed a soldier and several insurgents, authorities said.
The attack occurred in Kerawa, near areas of Nigeria recently taken over by Boko Haram. The nearby Mandara mountains have been used as a hideout by Boko Haram members.
“Boko Haram attacked Kerawa around 4:00 am (0300 GMT),” a police officer in the region said on the condition of anonymity.
“A man from the BIR (elite army unit) was killed. Several assailants were also killed.”
He said gun battle between the extremists and soldiers rocked the area until around 10 am.
Cameroun has reinforced its military presence in the region in a bid to stop an escalation of attacks by Boko Haram. On October 17, the military claimed to have killed 107 Islamists during intense fighting that also left eight soldiers dead.
However, there was no official confirmation from the military that 315 Nigerian soldiers fled into Niger last week.
But security sources who spoke to THISDAY on the incident, said the attack was brought under control following the immediate reinforcement of soldiers who were drafted from Yobe and Adamawa States to save Malam Fatori from falling into the hands of the terrorists.
A security source in the North-east, explained that the soldiers were forced to retreat because of the overwhelming firepower of the terrorists before the situation was later brought under control after the arrival of soldiers from other units.
According to the source, even though some of the soldiers were reported to have returned, they are yet to be sighted at the 7 Division, Nigerian Army Headquarters in Maiduguri, Borno State.
“All of them have not come in; we heard that some of them had come back but not yet in 7Div, as we don’t know where they passed through. Boko Haram advanced to that town and after the soldiers retreated to Niger, other soldiers were drafted from Yobe and Adamawa to halt their advance and secure Malam Fatori,” the source said.
Speaking further, the source complained about lack of the weaponry that would be effective for the engagement and defeat of Boko Haram.
Another military source called for the urgent supply and issuance of weapons for the successful prosecution of the war against terrorism, adding that the troops in the North-east had not been availed of the equipment said to have been acquired for the ongoing counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations.
According to the source, “The planned ‘Operation No Mercy’ can only be effective if the right weaponry, right spirit and coordinates are applied.”