BAUCHI, Nigeria – Boko Haram Islamic extremists have overpowered a multinational military force and seized its key base on Nigeria’s border with Chad, according to residents who took to canoes to escape.
Scores of soldiers and civilians were killed, while others drowned in Lake Chad, Nigerians taking refuge in a Chadian village said in cellphone calls Sunday night. They said insurgents fired rocket-propelled grenades and automatic assault rifles and hurled explosives.
“They came in their hundreds driving several Hilux patrol vehicles, trucks and some were on motorcycles and immediately began to throw explosives and bombs,” fisherman Audu Labbo told The Associated Press.
He and others reached by phone Sunday night said the troops from Nigeria and its neighbours Chad, Cameroon and Niger fought on Saturday until they ran out of ammunition. Details on the attack were slow getting out of the remote area.
Some soldiers removed their uniforms and threw away their rifles, Labbo said.
A senior security officer in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, confirmed that the military base at Baga is under the control of the insurgents. He said the multinational force fled because it received no reinforcements despite holding out for several hours. The officer spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to give information to reporters.
There are fears the extremists could use Baga as a base to attack Maiduguri, some 200 kilometres to the southwest.
Labbo said the insurgents’ bombs and grenades set aflame several buildings that burned to the ground – businesses, government offices, homes and part of the military base.
Boko Haram has been regionalizing the conflict with recent attacks on Chadian villages and a military base.
Thousands of people have died and some 1.6 million have been driven from their homes in the 5-year-old Islamic extremist uprising.