At least 30 Nigerian soldiers have been killed in a gun battle with Boko Haram fighters who overran a military base in the country’s northeast, according to military sources.
Scores of fighters in trucks stormed the base at Zari village in Borno state late on Thursday and briefly captured it after intense fighting, two sources told AFP news agency on Saturday.
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“They came in large numbers in trucks and carrying heavy weapons and engaged soldiers in a battle that lasted for an hour,” a military officer said.
“They overwhelmed the troops who were forced to temporarily withdraw before reinforcements arrived,” said the officer who asked not to be named because he was not authorised to speak.
Boko Haram took weapons and military equipment before they were pushed out of the base by troops with aerial support, said a second military source who gave a similar death toll.
“The terrorists also suffered heavy casualty from the bombardment,” one of the military officers said.
Boko Haram are thought to have attacked the base from the nearby Garunda village, where 17 troops were killed and 14 wounded in an attack on another military base last month, the sources said.
In a statement late on Friday, the Nigerian military confirmed soldiers fought Boko Haram “insurgents … on rampage to loot the community and extort money from villagers”.
“Troops … have successfully routed Boko Haram insurgents in an encounter that ensued yesterday evening at Zari village,” the military said in the statement.
It did not speak of military casualties and the raid on the base but maintained “several Boko Haram fighters and weapons” were destroyed in the fight.
The Nigerian army has on several occasions disputed reports on losses to Boko Haram and has in some cases played them down.
Boko Haram has waged an armed campaign in northeast Nigeria for years. The fighting has left more than 20,000 people dead and displaced over two million since 2009.
In recent months, the armed group has intensified attacks on military targets in recent months.
The assaults appear to undermine repeated claims by the Nigerian military that Boko Haram had been defeated.
On July 14, Boko Haram fighters overran a military base in Jilli village, in neighbouring Yobe state when dozens of troops were said to be been killed, wounded or missing.
Soldiers and civilians have also been targeted in separate attacks in neighbouring Chad and Niger.