By Samuel Ogundipe
News details obtained by PREMIUM TIMES have revealed that at least 113 soldiers were killed in the pre-dusk attack on 157 Task Force Battalion in Borno State on November 18.
This newspaper can also confirmed based on the accounts of top military officers that 153 soldiers are still missing in action as of November 24, nearly a week after the attack.
Those killed included the commander of the battalion, whom PREMIUM TIMES identified on November 20 as a lieutenant colonel.
It has now been learnt that the second-in-command to the commander, the intelligence officer of the battalion and two other officers were amongst those killed by Boko Haram in the attack, which occurred at about 6:00 p.m. last Sunday.
When PREMIUM TIMES broke the story of the attack on November 20, military sources were only able to confirm the killing of the commander and dozens of other soldiers.
It was not immediately clear how many soldiers were manning the base during the attack, which was linked to Islamic State in West Africa (ISWA).
On November 22, a soldier who escaped the attack and witnessed how his colleagues were killed by insurgents told PREMIUM TIMES 70 bodies had been confirmed.
Some media reports, including one by London-based newswire Reuters, cited sources as giving up to 100 soldiers killed by the insurgents in the attacks.
But PREMIUM TIMES has now learnt from top officers that the casualty had risen significantly to 118 soldiers, comprising 113 soldiers and five officers.
Our sources also confirmed 153 soldiers are still missing in action, and wounded troops have been evacuated to Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, for treatment.
The latest casualty number provided by military chiefs appeared to confirm Boko Haram’s claim in a video released Thursday. French newswire AFP said it saw a video in which Boko Haram claimed killing 118 soldiers in attacks last week.
Why we’ve been quiet — Nigerian Army
Despite widespread condemnation and mourning that greeted the killings, the military rejected demands for explanation on what led to the loss of such a high number of troops in one attack.
The Nigerian Army, Defence Headquarters and the Nigerian Air Force all failed to return PREMIUM TIMES’ requests for comments about the attack throughout the week.
It was only on Friday night after the news of the high casualty figures gained heavy traction amongst Nigerians online that the military was compelled to issue a statement.
But rather than provide specific details of the incident to Nigerians, and what was being done to curtail further sacking of Nigerian military bases in the volatile North-East, the Nigerian Army devoted a large part of its statement to bashing the media.
“Whilst it is true that there was an attack” on the Nigerian Army 157 Task Force Battalion on November 18, 2018, it has “become necessary to correct several misinformation being circulated with regards to this unfortunate event,” the Army said in a statement on its Twitter handle Friday night.
Several reports said the Islamic State in West Africa (ISWA) a faction of Boko Haram known to target military asset has claimed responsibility and published a video on the attack on Thursday. The video was circulated as having been shot during the attack in Metele on Sunday, but the Army said that claim was untrue.
The Army said “several social media, print and online publications have been brandishing false casualty figures as well as circulating various footages of old and inaccurate” Boko Haram “propaganda videos and alluding same to be the attack on 157 Task Force Battalion.
“Whilst it is understandable how such misinformation can spread in this era of social media frenzy, the spurious circulation of some of these videos only contribute to further propagate the propaganda intent of the terrorists; to misinform the populace and portray themselves as what they are not,” it said.
The statement said normalcy had since returned to the battalion and Metele general area because “reinforcing units have been able to repel the terrorists.”
The Army blamed its failure to speak on the attack for nearly a week on the need to respect the families of the fallen soldiers and the anguish they were living through.
“It is important for the public to note that the NA has laid down procedures for reporting incidents that involve its personnel who fall casualty in action.
“Out of respect for the families of our gallant troops, the NOKs are first notified before any form of public information so as to avoid exacerbating the grief family members would bear, were they to discover such from unofficial sources,” it said.
A spokesperson for the Nigerian Army did not immediately return requests for comments on our fresh finding Saturday morning. It could not be learnt the efforts being made to find the missing troops.
The latest attack in Metele followed months of heavy losses of both personnel and equipment which the insurgents have been inflicting on Nigerian military since resuming their latest campaign in July.
Worried about the rising cases of missing soldiers in Boko Haram attack, the chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, issued a warning to troops on the battlefront against fleeing from insurgents in August, threatening errant personnel with a tough prosecution.
The Defence Headquarters announced last week it had taken new delivery of military equipment, boasting of a tough time ahead for insurgents.
President Muhammadu Buhari has reportedly summoned service chiefs over the attack. He also dispatched Nigeria’s defence minister Mansur Dan Ali to Chad Republic, a neighbouring country on whose borders the Boko Haram seemed to have waxed stronger in recent month.