The number of Nigerian soldiers killed in a Boko Haram attack in northeastern Nigeria has reached forty-eight, the AFP news agency reports citing military sources.
The terrorists are said to have overran a military base in the northeast near the border with Niger, two military sources told AFP on Saturday. They are reported to have stormed the base at Zari village in northern Borno state late Thursday and briefly seized it after a fierce battle.
“They came in large numbers in trucks and carrying heavy weapons and engaged soldiers in a battle that lasted for an hour,” a military officer said.
The latest development means the toll has risen by more than half of the initial figure reported. Boko Haram has intensified attacks on military targets in recent months, the army or government has yet to speak on the casualty figures.
“They overwhelmed the troops who were forced to temporarily withdraw before reinforcements arrived,” said the officer who asked not to be named because he was not authorised to speak.
The attacks appear to undermine repeated claims by the military that Boko Haram had been defeated. The militants took weapons and military equipment before they were pushed out of the base by troops with aerial support.
The militants were pursued and bombarded by a fighter jet, said the military sources. “The terrorists also suffered heavy casualty from the bombardment”, one of the military officers said.
Zari is located 30km from the town of Damasak on the border with Niger.
In a statement late Friday the Nigerian military confirmed troops fought Boko Haram “insurgents…on rampage to loot the community and extort money from villagers”.
“Troops…have successfully routed Boko Haram insurgents in an encounter that ensued yesterday evening at Zari village,” the military said in the statement.
It did not speak of military casualties and the raid on the base but maintained “several Boko Haram fighters and weapons” were destroyed in the fight. The Nigerian army has on several occasions disputed reports on losses to Boko Haram and has in some cases played them down.