Olaleye Aluko and Kayode Idowu
A week after the fighters of the Islamic State West African Province attacked the Nigerian Army 157 Battalion’s base in Metele, Borno State, scores of dead and missing soldiers had yet to be located as air assets have been deployed in the area for search and rescue, according to military sources.
Also, troops have found it difficult to evacuate the decomposing bodies of soldiers who were brutally killed by the terrorists in the attack on the Metele military base last Sunday.
A military source told SUNDAY PUNCH on the telephone on Saturday that the troops that were sent to evacuate the remains of the slain soldiers were attacked by the insurgents and had to beat a tactical withdrawal.
The source said, “As of yesterday, around 10am, troops from 7 Brigade Baga went to Kangarwa 119 Task Force Battalion Defence Company’s location to recover three armoured tanks. They were ambushed and the insurgents carted away the tanks.
The source, who lamented that the morale among the soldiers was at an all-time low, said the bodies of those killed in Sunday’s attack on Metele were already decomposing in the bushes as the insurgents had continued to lay siege to the community.
“The corpses of those killed in Metele are still not evacuated and the soldiers that went for the evacuation were 147. They were attacked at the entrance to Metele,” said the source who spoke to one of our correspondents on condition of anonymity.
“A captain was captured alive by the insurgents; the insurgents killed six soldiers from the company with seven soldiers still missing.”
He said apart from human loss, “the soldiers that went for the evacuation lost a battle tank and a gun truck to the insurgents.”
On the loss during the initial siege to Metele, he said, “Last Sunday’s attack on Metele, on the 157 Task Force Battalion, Metele, led to the loss of six officers and 56 soldiers, the eagle battle tanks, APC, riffles, mortars and bombs were all taking away by the insurgents.”
He said the company was able to evacuate six corpses in spite of the ambush.
Meanwhile, a video has been released on the social media which showed the level of dissatisfaction among the soldiers.
Surviving soldiers send SOS to Buhari
In a related development, some soldiers, who survived the attack in Metele have sent a Save-Our-Soul to President Muhammadu Buhari, urging him to probe the quality of weapons procured by the military authorities and save them from further avoidable deaths.
In a video sent to journalists in Maiduguri, the soldiers accused the military authorities of providing them with obsolete weapons, which they said were grossly inadequate to effectively confront the insurgents in the ongoing campaign in the North-East.
In the amateur video footage, the soldiers also accused military authorities of negligence which resulted into the death of scores of their colleagues in a series of attacks coordinated by the Albarnawi faction of the Boko Haram at Metele in the Guzamala Local Government Area of Borno State.
In the video, two soldiers, who claimed to be among the survivors of the attack, narrated the precarious condition of the troops and obsolete equipment which made it difficult for them to repel the insurgents’ attack.
“See what the Nigerian Army has been doing to us. They brought us here. See how they killed our fellow soldiers, they burnt them inside the tanks,” a narrator in the video said.
“They are using us to make money; why? Are we not human beings? They can kill soldiers inside a tank. If Rocket Propelled Grenade can penetrate M-RAG vehicle, what of a fellow human being?
“This is the location called ‘Metele’; this is a place they (the insurgents) took over 40 barrel and these people want to use us, and within one week they killed over 200 soldiers and we are now 147. They want to waste us here. It is a lie, our blood is not here.”
They added, “This is a Third World vehicle, a tank manufactured in 1972; and Albarnawi broke all of it. They want to use us and we are not getting anything from them. We want to tell the government of our condition.
“Please, the Federal Government should intervene before the insurgents come and kill us. They mocked us and said we are Zombies, animals; we do not know our rights, any order given to us we will follow.
“We are millennium soldiers, most of us are graduates.
“Look at what they did to this T12 tank; it is obsolete. It was a 1983 Czechoslovakian tank procured during (Shehu) Shagari’s regime. Is this the money the Federal Government provided to procure weapons?”
Military jets comb bushes for missing, captured soldiers
Meanwhile, a reliable source in the Nigerian Air Force told SUNDAY PUNCH on Saturday that the NAF had deployed more air assets in the North-East theatre to assist in the search for the corpses of soldiers and to locate scores of others who have been declared missing.
Another military source said some Nigerian soldiers were believed to have fled to towns and villages in Cameroon, Niger Republic and Chad to escape more fire from the ISWAP terrorists who are suspected to be regrouping for more attacks.
A military source added, “There is discontent within the troops in the North-East. Some of the soldiers have direct or indirect links with ISWAP. This is why the terrorists are able to release videos and casualty figures effortlessly. It is a coordinated attack and it is alarming.
“We are having air support in the areas. We rely on them to bomb more terrorists’ gathering, help to search and rescue troops and other allied operations.
“The Air Force is presently carrying out Operation Green Sweep, which is an air interdiction operation. This alone means that more fighter and surveillance aircraft have been deployed in the theatre of operations to identify Boko Haram logistics’ base and take them out.
“But it is not only about interdiction, there will be searches and surveillance to identify possible hostages for rescue.”
The Director of Public Relations and Information of NAF, Air Commodore Ibikunle Daramola, could not be reached on Saturday to confirm any air deployments in Metele.
Also, the Nigerian Army said on Saturday that it would not comment on details of the Metele attack, apart from a scanty statement it posted on its official Facebook page late on Friday.
The Director, Army Public Relations, Brig-Gen Texas Chukwu, when contacted on effort being made by the military on the Metele attack, said, “Go and check our post on Facebook. You will find everything there.”
Chukwu declined to respond to further enquiries.
The army had said late on Friday that “whilst it is true that there was an attack on the location on November 18, it has become necessary to correct several misinformation on the incident. So far, the situation in that location is under control as reinforcing units have been able to repel the terrorists and stabilise the situation.”