At least 10 Chadian soldiers were killed and others wounded when Boko Haram attacked a military unit in western Chad on Tuesday, the government has said, but media reports suggest the fatalities may be much higher.
The attack took place near Ngouboua in the Lake Chad area, a vast marshy region shared by Chad, Niger, Cameroon and Nigeria that has been battered by Boko Haram and the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) armed group.
The unit had been sent to help set up an advance position on Bouka-Toullorom island when it was “attacked by elements from the Boko Haram sect,” presidential spokesman Brah Mahamat said in a statement on Tuesday.
“The 10 or so dead, and the wounded, are members of the defence forces.”
But an army officer, speaking to the AFP news agency on condition of anonymity, said “about 30” troops had been killed and the attackers had made off with their equipment, including heavy weapons. He said 150 troops had been sent to Bouka-Toullorom on the orders of President Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno and they had only just taken up position on the island.
French state media Radio France Internationale (RFI) also reported that “between 20 to 40 Chadian soldiers were killed” and several are missing. RFI said at least four civilians were also killed.
The Boko Haram armed uprising, which erupted in northeast Nigeria in 2009, has killed tens of thousands of people – more than 350,000 by some counts – and forced millions to flee their homes.
In 2014, Boko Haram seized islands in the marshland and began using them as boltholes. In 2020, most of these islands were taken over by ISWAP, which had split from Boko Haram.
Since April 2021, Chad has been ruled since by 38-year-old General Deby. He took over after his father, President Idriss Deby Itno, who ruled with an iron fist for 30 years, died during an operation against rebels in the north of the country.
In a visit to the Lake Chad region earlier this month, Deby said the armed religious fighters “no longer have the strength to hit bases” and as a result were concentrating their attacks on the civilian population.
In June, a four-nation force set up by the Lake Chad countries in 1994 and reactivated in 2015 said it had carried out a two-month campaign that had killed more than 800 armed fighters.
Before Tuesday, the last attack in the area was in August, when two troops died.
The Chadian army’s biggest one-day loss was when Boko Haram killed 92 soldiers and wounded 47 more in March 2020.
Mahamat, in his statement, said the latest attack “confirms that the shadowy Boko Haram still has an active presence in the Lake Chad basin.”
The statement reiterated Chad’s “firm commitment to putting terrorism in Chad and the sub-region out of harm’s way.”
But it said Chad also “calls on the international community to be fully aware of this genuine threat and to act appropriately.”
The government has pledged to more than double the size of its army by the end of 2022 to deal with security challenges, including threats from fighters linked to al-Qaeda and the ISIL (ISIS) group.