Timothy Olanrewaju, Maiduguri
The mood at Maimalari Barracks, location of Operation Lafiya Dole headquarters, the military counter-insurgency operational command, on Monday evening, was mournful. About a dozen of wounded soldiers have just been brought to an army hospital and remains of fallen troops that died in an ambush by Boko Haram last Sunday evening deposited at a military morgue in the same barracks.
Some military personnel and civilians were seen near a tree discussing the bloody ambush and the loss of their colleagues at Gorgi, a remote area in Damboa Local Government on Borno local border with neighbouring Yobe State during a military operation last Sunday.
It was planned to be a successful operation led by the Theatre Commander, Operation Lafiya Dole, Maj.-Gen. Olusegun Adeniyi, to clear Boko Haram elements from an area that has become an enclave for Boko Haram despite previous onslaught and dislodgement.
Sadly, the operation flopped as the nation lost 29 of its gallant officers and soldiers to the ambush laid by the insurgents.
Dislodging Boko Haram’s second stronghold
Multiple military sources said that the operation was aimed at clearing Boko Haram from the area noted for large presence of the terrorists. Residents who are conversant with the activities of Boko Haram since they were dislodged from Maiduguri, the capital city, in June 2013, described the area covering about 4,000 square metres as second stronghold of the terrorists.
They claimed that there are about six Boko Haram camps in the area. From Alagarno near Damboa, Southwest of Maiduguri, popularly called the Boko Haram spiritual base, to the fringes of Kaga Local Government stretching forth into Goniri and Buni Yadi in Gujba Local Government of Yobe State, Boko Haram has carried out series of attacks on security formations and communities.
The Abubakar Shekau faction of Boko Haram has maintained their presence in these areas since 2013 though moving regularly from one point to another, sources said.
What went wrong
Earlier on March 11, the insurgents had attacked some military troops. An officer was reportedly killed in the attack, a development that forced the theatre to embark on clearance operation in the area.
Last weekend, the theatre commenced the clearance operation in the area with scores of artillery troops.
Sources claimed that some Boko Haram acting as informants hid on the trees around the area and passed information to the terrorists commanders on the movement of troops for ambush.
Sunday Sun could not confirm the claim from the theatre commander as at the time of filing the report.
However, Coordinator of Directorate of Defence Media Operation, Maj.-Gen John Enenche at a press conference in Abuja on Tuesday claimed that “suspected local informants” leaked intelligence on the movement of troops after a successful operation in the area.
“During a consolidation operation, they were ambushed by elements of Boko Haram terrorists,” adding that the military lost 29 troops, including officers and soldiers.
Sources, however, said that the number of casualties far exceeded what the military authorities gave.
Aftermath of the ambush
Sunday Sun gathered that military authorities were disturbed about the heavy loss in the latest attack, especially coming after previous successes recorded in Damboa on March 4, where troops destroyed at least 19 gun trucks belonging to the insurgents.
Families and relations of the slain soldiers were also said to be preparing for the burial of their loved ones. The Theatre Commander could not be reached for comment on this.
Help for the injured soldiers, deceased families
Borno State governor, Babagana Zulum on Friday visited the wounded soldiers at the 7 Division Nigerian Army Hospital Maimalari. He announced the donation of N500, 000 to each of the families of the 29 soldiers killed in the ambush.
“The government and people of Borno State share the grief of the Nigerian military, particularly those of bereaved families of the soldiers who died last week at a time the country is faced with pandemic. We pray for the repose of the souls of these gallant soldiers and we salute and appreciate their supreme sacrifices.
“Nothing can compensate for losing these precious brothers and patriotic Nigerians. We commiserate with their families and because we are at a tough and unprecedented times, the government of Borno will support each family with N500,000. Importantly also, we hope the unfortunate incident will not dampen the spirit of our gallant military in our shared fight against Boko Haram,” Zulum said.