Olaleye Aluko and Kayode Idowu
The Nigerian Air Force has deployed no fewer than six fighter and surveillance aircraft to the general area of the Headquarters of the 7 Brigade Multinational Joint Task Force, Baga, Borno State, which was attacked by Boko Haram terrorists on Wednesday and Thursday.
SUNDAY PUNCH learnt that the deployments were done to combat the Islamic State of West African faction of the Boko Haram fighters who attacked the Baga area as well as to locate scores of Nigerian soldiers said to have been displaced from the headquarters following the attacks.
The Baga invasion followed another attack about four weeks after the ISWAP fighters overran the army base in the Metele area on November 18, killing 23 soldiers and injuring 31 others, according to figures released by the Nigerian Army.
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Military sources in the North-East said the Boko Haram’s increasing attacks on army bases were signs of desperation on the part of the insurgents to steal highly priced and valuable Nigerian Army’s arsenal.
The sources said the insurgents’ means of finance from its international networks were being cut off due to the power tussle among their factional leaders, which had forced the terrorists to resort to forcefully taking away military weapons.
Our correspondents learnt that the army bases on the fringes of the Lake Chad area or northern Borno were the most targeted because the insurgents had “easy escape routes” into Niger Republic, Chad and Cameroon after such attacks.
One of the military sources said, “Some soldiers are missing after the Baga invasion. Although reinforcements have been sent, the situation in the base has not yet normalised. Not all the soldiers have returned to the base, fuelling fears that some were abducted or lost in the jungle or even fled.
“The military ISR aircraft is monitoring and looking for every possible gathering and suspicious movements to know the next line of action.”
Another source, a retired military personnel, said, “The Boko Haram knows that the military are blocking their channels of supply by establishing bases along the Lake Chad area and the terrorists are not happy.
“There are internal leadership tussles among them and they, therefore, cannot afford to buy ammunition again. This is why they target military bases to get more weapons. The weapons they stole during the Metele attack could be what they used to attack Baga. The terrorists are desperate to steal more and more weapons. They also sell those weapons to make money for themselves.”
The NAF, on Friday, confirmed the deployments of an Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance aircraft and two Mi-35M Helicopter Gunships in Baga by the Air Task Force of the Operation Lafiya Dole.
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The NAF Director of Public Relations and Information, Air Commodore Ibikunle Daramola, said within two days, the air force had conducted 20 missions in 21 sorties and flown 39 hours on December 26 and 27 in support of operations in the Baga general area.
He said, “The Headquarters 7 Brigade Multinational Joint Task Force, Baga, came under attack by members of the ISWAP and upon receipt of that information, the Air Task Force immediately dispatched a Nigerian Air Force ISR platform along with two Mi-35M Helicopter Gunships to provide support for the troops to repel the attack.
“The NAF ISR aircraft, which was overhead the troops’ location, also worked closely with a Nigerien Air Force and another allied ISR aircraft that were also in the operation area at the time of the attack. The ISR platforms were in contact with the ground troops and assisted in directing their fire against the terrorists, while the helicopter gunships engaged the terrorists at isolated locations destroying some of their vehicles and neutralising some fighters.
“The ATF also provided support for the army and the navy at Doron Baga base, which equally came under attack by ISWAP fighters on December 27. The ATF deployed two ISR platforms, two Helicopter Gunships and two Alpha Jet aircraft to provide ISR and close air support to the troops.
“In all, the ATF conducted 20 missions in 21 sorties with a total of about 39 hours flown on 26 and 27 December in support of operations in Baga general area.”
The Nigerian Army has, however, denied that scores or hundreds of its troops were missing after the Baga incident.
The Director, Army Public Relations, Brig Gen Sani Usman, said this in a terse statement, adding that “no one could give accurate details of the encounter yet as the troops have been reinforced and are busy with pursuit and mopping up operations against the terrorists.”
Meanwhile, the Chief of Defense Staff, Gen. Gabriel Olonisakin, on Saturday, arrived in Maiduguri with two other security chiefs, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai (Army), and Air Marshall Abubakar Sadique (Air Force) to assess the resurgence of Boko Haram attacks in the North-East.
The service chiefs and other top military officers arrived at the troubled town, the birthplace of Boko Haram, at about 1pm in a NAF airplane and immediately went into a meeting at the Air Force Base in the Borno State capital.
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They subsequently moved to the headquarters of the counter-insurgency operation in the North-East (Operation Lafiya Dole) where they were expected to be briefed on the ongoing anti-terror war in the North-East.
They were expected to move to Baga to assess the situation of things in the town hosting the headquarters of the Multi National Joint Task that was attacked by Boko Haram a few days ago.
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