After a two-day battle against Boko Haram in northeastern Borno state, Nigerian forces have lost more territory to the surging terrorist group. Boko Haram has stepped up its offensive over the past few months, grabbing land to build its desired Islamic state. Just two weeks ago, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau released a video in which he celebrated the group’s recent victories, railed against democracy, and threatened to continue attacks in Nigeria and neighboring countries.
Yesterday morning, Boko Haram fighters attacked the city of Bama in Nigeria’s northeast Borno state. The insurgents arrived in armored tanks and trucks as they attempted to take over the city. Later in the day, Nigeria’s Defense Headquarters tweeted “#Bama attack is being repelled. We cannot state casualty situation/figures now. Everything necessary will be done to contain the Terrorists.”
To repel the terrorists, the Nigerian military relied upon its air force. Reports indicate, however, that the air force had difficulty distinguishing between its own forces and Boko Haram. Borno senator Ahmed Zanna told AFP: “The jet could not distinguish between soldiers and Boko Haram and bombarded the military barracks which was at the time under the control of soldiers …. The aerial bombing destroyed the military barracks and forced soldiers to flee towards Maiduguri along with thousands of civilians.” It is possible that the Boko Haram fighters were wearing military uniforms, as they have frequently done in other attacks.
Reports emerged today that the Nigerian forces’ hold on Bama crumbled as the insurgents returned in greater numbers overnight. Sources say casualties were high on both sides as Boko Haram overran Bama and as many as 5,000 people fled.
Soldiers reportedly also fled. One noted to the Nigerian press: “You kill and kill and kill but these people are coming like flies. We have to withdraw and allow the air force do their job. We do not know what is now on ground in Bama, but we have all withdrawn to Maiduguri.”
If Boko Haram has taken over Bama, it would be the largest city under the group’s control and a powerful demonstration of the terror group’s efficiency and capabilities. Bama, which had a population of 270,000 in 2006, is located only about 45 miles away from Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state. In an effort to prevent Boko Haram “infiltration,” Maiduguri city has been placed under curfew. The city has taken in some 20,000 refugees who arrived in the past 48 hours, mainly from Bama.
Over the summer, the group has raised its flags and taken at least marginal control of several villages and towns in the northeast. These towns include Damboa, Gwoza, Buni Yadi, Gamboru, and Madagali, among others. The Nigerian military has been struggling to regain control in the areas, reportedly recapturing Damboa and surrounding areas in early August. Shekau disputed the claim that the Damboa area was under government control, however, in his recent video.
On Aug. 27, Boko Haram fighters reportedly took over Bakin Dutse, a village in neighboring Adamawa state just to the southwest of Madagali. Setting up camp, the terrorists were only about five kilometers away from Gulak, which hosts a reinforced military base.