Two soldiers were killed in a Boko Haram rocket attack on a military vehicle in the northeast Nigerian town of Baga, which was retaken by the military in February. Six other soldiers and a civilian vigilante were critically injured when their vehicle hit a mine planted by the Islamists just outside the town in Borno state on Sunday, they added.
The attack and the mine explosion happened as the military escorted some 1,200 people from Baga on a brief return visit to their hometown from the Borno state capital, Maiduguri, according to reports.
“Boko Haram fired a rocket-propelled grenade on a military van in an ambush in Baga which killed two soldiers and destroyed the vehicle,” a resident, Karimbe Maina, said.
The soldiers were said to be driving back to their base outside Baga to mobilise more troops to help drag an armoured vehicle stuck in the mud across the town when the attack happened.
“Following the attack which killed two soldiers there was a prolonged gun battle between soldiers and the Boko Haram gunmen, which forced the gunmen to flee,” a vigilante Haruna Shuaibu, added.
Musa Bulama who was on the visit said it was short as they had to hurry back to Maiduguri as they run for their dear lives.
The visit was said to have been initially planned for Sunday but was delayed after a military vehicle set off a mine in Kauyen Kuros village, six kilometres from Baga. “We had to spend the night in Kauyen Kuros as a result of the explosion which injured six soldiers and a member of the civilian vigilantes giving security cover to the convoy,” said Bulama.
It is unclear if the landmines were the same ones the military spokesman Chris Olukolade said on February 21 that troops had to clear before being able to enter Baga.
Although recent reports have it that the regional forces already have Boko Haram militants on the run, with troops poised to storm the Sambisa forest, stronghold of the terrorists, the recent attack showed the terrorist may still be very much around in the area.
“Boko Haram are still in the bushes around Baga and move in and out of the town unchallenged because soldiers confine themselves to their base in Mile 4 and only carry periodic patrols of the town,” said Maina.
Bulama added: “The area is still not safe. Boko Haram are very much around in the surrounding areas. No one should contemplate moving back into the area because it is dangerous.”
Baga has witnessed deadly attacks in the past. In April 2013, over 185 people were killed and over 2000 homes destroyed as a result of fighting between the Nigerian military and the Boko Haram.
In January this year, the terrorists again attacked the town, seizing it and the military base used by a multinational force set up to fight them. The town was burned and about 2,000 people were reportedly massacred, the largest of such massacre in Boko Haram’s history.