Conflicting accounts emerged of an attack by Islamists on the Nigerian military last week, with security sources saying as many as 48 soldiers were killed and state media quoting an official army spokesman as saying the reports were wrong.
Thursday’s attack by suspected members of Islamic State in West Africa (ISWA), on a base in Zari in the north of Borno State, is the latest blow to Nigeria’s efforts to defeat Islamist insurgencies.
In 2016 ISWA split from Boko Haram, the jihadist group which killed more than 30,000 people in the region since 2009, when it launched an insurgency to create an Islamic caliphate.
Military and security personnel who did not want to be named told Reuters up to 30 soldiers were killed in the Zari attack. Three sources said later the known death toll of Nigerian troops rose to 48.
Military spokesmen did not respond to phone calls and text messages from Reuters requesting comment.
Army spokesman Texas Chukwu told state-run News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Sunday there was a firefight between troops and insurgents. He called reports of killings of soldiers a “figment of the imagination of the news agency”, without specifying which news agency.
Reports of killings of troops were published by foreign news organisations including Reuters and by some Nigerian media.
“During the firefight, an overwhelming volume of fire was unleashed on insurgents from both the air and ground troops, neutralising several and their weapons,” Chukwu told NAN. He did not specifically say no government troops were killed.
President Muhammadu Buhari, a former general, won the 2015 election after vowing to crush Islamist militants. He plans to seek a second term in February.
Buhari said on Sunday Boko Haram were no longer in Borno state and did not control any territory, according to a presidency statement.