Islamic State jihadists ambushed a Nigerian military convoy, killing 15 soldiers and four militia fighters in the northeastern state of Borno on Thursday, security sources said in a statement over the weekend.
The 10-vehicle convoy was on its way to Gudumbali from the town of Kukawa in the violent Lake Chad region to participate in a military operation against the Islamic State when it came under fire, according to military sources.
“We lost 15 soldiers and four civilian JTF (militia) in the terrorists’ ambush in the forest near Gudumbali,” an unnamed military officer said to the AFP. He added that 13 government fighters (10 army troops, three militia) were wounded in the fighting.
“The casualties were brought to Maiduguri (regional capital), this afternoon,” the officer added.
The militia, who work with the Nigerian military in the fight against the insurgents, also released a statement. Their leader Umar Ari said that a militia leader in the area was among those killed.
“Four of our comrades were among the dead, including, Yusuf Baba-Idris, the head of Civilian JTF in Kukawa,” Ari said.
Nigeria’s security situation is tense. President Muhammadu Buhari has to deal with Nigeria’s many security challenges, including herder-farmer clashes and groups of bandits and kidnappers that prey on civilians in the northwest part of the country. Boko Haram’s insurgency adds another level to that pressure.
Nigeria’s National Security Adviser Babagana Monguno announced on Thursday that Nigeria will not negotiate with the terrorist group and that the government does not see negotiations as a means to deal with the worsening security situation in the country.
The Boko Haram insurgency against the Nigerian government began in 2009. Although it was initially supported by other terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and al-Shabaab, at first, it met with defeat.
Nevertheless, in 2014, the insurgency spread to neighboring Cameroon, Chad, and Niger, thus becoming a major regional conflict. At the same time, Boko Haram began exerting control over much of northeast Nigeria. The group uses the islands of Lake Chad as a base of operations.
In 2016, Boko Haram had a split over the strict policies of Abubakar Shekau who was replaced as the group’s leader and formed his own group in response. The two factions have attacked each other but have been rumored to occasionally cooperate against common enemies.
Following the split, Boko Haram pledged allegiance to the Islamic State’s West African Province (ISWAP) in 2016 and has since become a dominant threat in Nigeria.
Since it began, the jihadist insurgency has killed 36,000 people, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The violence has affected 26 million people in the Lake Chad region and has displaced 2.6 million, according to the UN Refugee Agency.
With violence nearly spiraling out of control, the Nigerian military is seeking to rescue dozens of students who were abducted on Thursday in northwestern Kaduna state in an attack on their school. On Saturday, military forces stopped another attempted abduction of schoolboys after bandits on motorcycles and trucks stormed the Government Science Secondary School in Ikara.
Nigeria is an extremely diverse country with over 400 ethnic groups. Its military must upgrade its anti-terrorism capabilities and get the security situation stabilized. At the same time, it must stop the brutal counter-measures that serve only to drive people to the insurgency: Nigeria’s human rights record is dismal.
Politically, the government must confront the root causes, such as poverty and unemployment, that push unemployed youths towards radicalization by Boko Haram, ISWAP, and other terrorist groups. The government needs to be more transparent, just, and free from corruption and place an emphasis on human rights.