Over six hundred soldiers are still missing after suspected Boko Haram militants overran a military base in Yobe State on Saturday, credible sources told Daily Trust yesterday.
Many Boko Haram militants dressed in military apparel and armed with sophisticated weapons got access to a military facility in Jilli, a village in Yobe State close to the border with Borno State in the fringes of Lake Chad.
One of the sources said before the invasion, the base had around 750 troops manning it, adding that the facility was established to contain the movement of Boko Haram terrorists' along the Chad Basin.
The Geidam area which shares border with Niger Republic has many cells under the control of the Abu Mus'ab Albarnawi faction of the Boko Haram which has ties with the Islamic State in West Africa (ISWAB).
"About 100 of the troops that disappeared from the base in Jilli after the clash have reported in Geidam town but very few of them had their weapons with them," the source said.
He said over 600 had not been accounted for but expressed optimism that they might have taken cover somewhere and would soon surface.
"The soldiers manning the military facility took over two hours, from around 6.20pm till around 9pm, fighting hundreds of Boko Haram militants, who eventually overran the facility," he said.
Jilli village is located 60km from Gaidam, the headquarters of Gaidam local Government of Yobe State.
A top military source said, "Yes, the 81 Division Forward Brigade in Jilli was overran by the terrorists and some of our men ran to Geidam for reinforcement... Everything is now under control," he said.
When asked about the casualty figures, he said, "It's too early to ascertain, but there must be casualty from both sides."
A soldier who survived the attack told our correspondent that the terrorists went to the military facility in fleet of military painted vehicles with camouflage colours.
"There was trench around the base, but they confidently approached the gate and we opened it thinking they were troops from Gubio. They started shooting and we engaged them before they overran us," he said.
"About 10 of us ran to Ngilewa village where a Good Samaritan drove us to Damakarwa village and handed us to the troops from Geidam," he said.
He said most of the troops were newly deployed to the brigade, and therefore not accustomed to the terrain. "I cannot say anything about the casualties but the attack was fatal," he added.
Modu Grema, a driver from the area, said they rescued 53 soldiers and one vigilante who sustained bullet wound on his leg.
"I was sleeping when 13 soldiers knocked at my door. Initially, I refused to open the door because of the gunshots that enraged the military location. When I opened, 13 soldiers asked me to drive them to Geidam, in fact they insisted.
"I picked my car keys and drove them to Damakarwa village under intense fear because I would have been dead by now if we mistakenly cross paths with the insurgents," he said.
Goni Baana, a farmer in Gubio Local Government Area of Borno State who is now in Maiduguri, said many of the soldiers that left Jilli at night crossed to Gwala village where they passed the night.
"From what I gathered, our people in Gwala led them to a base in Gubio town in the morning," he said.
More revelations from Borno ambush
The siege in Jilli came after Friday's ambush on a military convoy near Bulagallaye, a village between Bama and Dikwa in central part of Borno State, which left some military operatives and vigilantes dead, and others missing.
It was gathered that the ambush was carried out by Boko Haram fighters loyal to Abubakar Shekau who were moving from Gulumba and Sambisa axis.
Sources said corpses of 10 soldiers and some vigilantes who lost their lives during the ambush had been recovered yesterday.
The ambush was launched around 2pm Friday while the troops were moving in a convoy of 16 Hilux vehicles loaded with soldiers and vigilantes.
"They were on their way for an operation in Bulagallaye along Bama/Dikwa axis when the assailants ambushed them... There are fears that many of the operatives have been killed and others got missing in the ensuing confusion," one of the sources said.
"You know this is raining season and operations along that axis are increasingly becoming tough because of the terrain. One of the trucks in the convoy got stocked in the muddy area. And while efforts were being deployed to pull out the truck, the terrorists laid ambush and attacked the troops and the vigilantes," he said.
Why troops are passing through difficulties
A security expert said many factors were responsible for the recent setback for the military operating in the North East.
"This period is not suitable to conduct operations. One is lack of adequate knowledge of the terrain and inability of the overall military architecture to understand when it is suitable to conduct operations; they supposed to cover a lot of grounds during the dry season when their heavy fighting vehicles could traverse the difficult terrain.
"The second issue is that many of the troops were deployed to the area recently and yet to come to terms with the complexities and thirdly, the Boko Haram are fully aware of these shortcomings, they are therefore using this period to amass a lot of weapons and once dry season comes, they would be ready for fresh round of fight with the military. This is why we have this cyclical scenario for nearly ten years," he said.
When contacted, the Theatre Commander, Operation Lafiya Dole, Major General Rogers Nicholas, told Daily Trust via phone that he was out of town on official business and unable to comment on the issue.
He said the Director of Army Public Relations Brigadier General Texas Chukwu would be in best position to comment. But all attempts to speak with Chukwu proved abortive as he neither answered calls nor responded to text messages sent by Daily Trust.