NOT less than 40 soldiers were reportedly killed during two separate attacks that occurred between the Army and the Boko Haram insurgents in Kumala village along Maiduguri – Damboa Highway, Borno State, The ICIR learnt on Wednesday.
The first incident allegedly took place on June 27, when a team of soldiers escorting a convoy of travellers were attacked by the insurgents, after handling over the passengers to another military detachment at an exchange point in Kumala village, near Bulabulin along the Damboa highway to Maiduguri.
12 soldiers were said to have died during the June 27 attack. A similar report put the casualty figure of the military to at least nine soldiers and two Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF). It claimed 20 insurgents were killed during the incident.
On Tuesday, July 7, 10 days after the first attack, a team of soldiers from the 25 Task Force Battalion and Sector 2 Special Forces on patrol were allegedly ambushed at the same Kumala village by Boko Haram fighters.
The incident also led to the death of 28 soldiers.
These imply that 40 soldiers, according to our sources reportedly lost their lives in the separate attacks within a space of 10 days.
A military source who witnessed the first attack said Kumala village has been a central location where soldiers do passengers transfer after escorting civilians arriving from Maiduguri, and those from Damboa to proceed on their respective destinations.
“We escorted travellers going to Damboa from Maiduguri while the soldiers in Damboa escorted travellers coming to Maiduguri,” the source stated.
“Usually, we would stop at the exchange point in Kumala village near Bulabulin, where we would hand over the travellers from Maiduguri to the soldiers from Damboa and then receive from them the travellers from Damboa to bring them to Maiduguri.”
The source further explained that as the convoy of travellers headed back to Maiduguri escorted by soldiers, military surveillance saw three Hilux vehicles approaching the team and were shooting.
He said the second military detachment which was the returning party had believed it was their counterparts from Damboa.
The shootings, he noted, were similar to the military pattern as it was a tradition for the armies to shoot while driving through dangerous terrain.
This, he said was to discourage any unforeseen attacks, stressing that the soldiers never realised the attackers were insurgent until they got closer.
His words: “We thought it was the soldiers from Damboa with whom we exchanged travellers earlier. So, we called them to find out if it was them and if there was a problem but they said it was not them and that they were still on their way to Damboa.”
“Still, the soldiers thought the approaching vehicles were soldiers because it is a military strategy to shoot while driving through a dangerous path to deter any potential attack. By the time they realised it was Boko Haram, it was already late because they were already within range.”
He added that aside from Boko Haram fighters on the patrol van, there were other members of the insurgent who were hidden in a nearby bush.
The source said the soldiers were overpowered, stressing that few of them managed to escape to Dalwa village, a settlement 30 kilometres from Maiduguri but after reinforcement had arrived, the survivors realised 12 soldiers had gone missing.
Nine corpses of the soldiers were initially discovered, and three others found a day after the headcounts.
“We found nine corpses initially and thought the remaining three soldiers had escaped and would return later,” a soldier who was part of the search team told our reporter. “We returned the following day after the soldiers did not return and we found their corpses in the bush.”
Meanwhile, for almost five years, the Maiduguri-Damboa highway has been one of the most dangerous roads in the northeast region.
Several reports have shown how travellers are usually escorted along the highway by the military because of the Boko Haram ambush.
The ICIR contacted the Spokesperson for the Nigerian Army, Sagir Musa to confirm the incident but he has not responded as of the time of filing this report
Damboa is 89 kilometres south to Maiduguri. It is one of the locations mostly hit by the Boko Haram. In 2014, a BBC report detailed how half of Damboa including the market was reportedly burnt down by the insurgents.
On June 8, the Jihadists reportedly attacked a military base in Auno village and killed six soldiers.
Though the military has recorded some wins against the insurgents in the unending battle, they have also recorded significant casualties.
In July last year, a colonel and five soldiers were also killed through an ambush in Jakana, close to Maiduguri, the Borno State Capital.
The ICIR reported the Mass Atrocities Report released by the Global Rights in 2019 which detailed some of the killings in the country with reference to Borno State which had the highest casualty figure.