Libyan mercenaries have joined forces with Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP) rebels in the Northeast as the terrorists seek to reclaim lost territory.
A brigadier general and three of his soldiers were killed by rebels in Askira, Borno State, yesterday.
Military airstrikes killed many top ISWAP commanders when they were purportedly having a strategic conference with their new leader, Sani Shuwaram, near Sabon Tumbun and Jibularam, in the state’s Marte Local Government Area.
Sani Shuwaram’s fate after the airstrikes could not be determined right away.
The general’s name was Dzarma Zirkusu, who was the commander of the 28 Task Force in Chibok until his death.
The three troops who died alongside him were not identified.
They were on their way from Chibok to Asira-Uba when they were ambushed by ISWAP. According to a high source, intelligence reports showed that several Libyan mercenaries were among the ISWAP soldiers in the North-East corridor.
According to the source, the soldiers were killed in an ambush by ISWAP terrorists on a retribution mission.
“Our military jets had neutralized many leaders and ISWAP insurgents on Friday and they attempted to fight back by attacking towns and villages, especially Askira Uba town which they tried to seize,” said the source.
“Following a distress call to 28 Task Force in Chibok, the commander, a Brigadier-General mobilized his troops for a reinforcement shuttle to Askira Uba.
“It was while on their way that the Army General and the troops were ambushed. But intelligence indicated that the General and the soldiers resisted the move to abduct them. It was learnt that in annoyance, the ISWAP insurgents killed them.
“Ordinarily, an army General ought not to lead any reinforcement but the heroic Commander decided to lead by example.”
Responding to a question, the source added: “ISWAP has been striking in the North – East corridor because some Libya-based mercenaries dominate their ranks.
“I can assure you that Nigerian troops are up to the task. With Boko Haram decimated and Abubakar Shekau smoked out, the end of this war against insurgents is near. We will now face ISWAP squarely.”
The source said the bodies of the fallen soldiers had been evacuated to Maiduguri.
The Director of Army Public Relations, Brigadier General Onyema Nwachukwu,confirmed the death of the army officer and his men yesterday.
He said: “Troops of Joint Task Force, North East Operation HADIN KAI have neutralized several Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) terrorists during a recent encounter in Askira Uba Local Government Area of Borno State. In the fierce encounter which is still raging as at the time of filling this report, troops supported by the Air Component of OPHK have deployed five A – Jet, two A-29, two Dragon combat with which they destroyed nine Gun Trucks and One APC.
“Sadly, a gallant senior officer Brigadier General Dzarma Zirkusu and three soldiers paid the supreme sacrifice in a very rare display of gallantry as they provided reinforcement in a counter offensive against the terrorists, and successfully defended the location. The families of the senior officer and soldiers have been contacted.
“The Chief of Army Staff Lt Gen Faruk Yahaya, deeply commiserates with the families and relations of the fallen heroes. He has also directed that the troops continue in the ferocious counter offensive and hot pursuit to eliminate the remnant of the fleeing terrorists.”
According to sources in Askira, the militants who invaded the town yesterday arrived in 13 gun trucks and “began to attack the military base near the town,” according to online journal HumAngle.
It was around 9 a.m.
Before the troops arrived to face them, some of the terrorists began shooting and setting buildings on fire.
It also quoted Abdullahi Askira, the Deputy Speaker of the Borno State House of Assembly and a local resident, as saying: “We had previously got an alarm from our people, who are largely farmers, that they observed scores of terrorists, all armed, driving from Nguide axis as they went into Askira.”
Abdullahi Askira said the troops “tried their best because they engaged them effectively even before the air force jet arrived.”
He said many buildings were burnt “but luckily none of the residents of Askira was killed during the attack.
“But on a very sad note, we learnt that a senior military officer that led the reinforcement team from Chibok was said to have died during the fight.”
Extremist terrorists damaged a classroom facility and other structures, according to Hassan Chibok, a community leader in the neighboring Chibok council.
“Askira Uba’s primary school was destroyed by fire. “The village head’s house, as well as the key healthcare center, were also burned down,” he claimed.
Another group of terrorists reportedly invaded Mulai village near Maiduguri and robbed some animals, while another gang of fighters reportedly attacked a communication mast and health center in Buni Yadi, Yobe State, and stole a generator set and narcotics.
Many residents were forced to escape as a result of the invasion.
Despite the elimination of its commanders Abu Musab al-Barnawi and successor Malam Bako – one after the other – ISWAP has been desperately striving to strengthen its influence in the Northeast after getting rid of Boko Haram head Abubakar Shekau.
Askira is roughly 150 kilometers south of Maiduguri, the state capital, and is located on the outskirts of the Sambisa Forest, which is home to ISWAP and Boko Haram.
‘They are martyrs,’ Buhari said in a homage to three soldiers killed by a fallen general.
President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday mourned the death of Brigadier General Dzarma Zirkusu, Commander of the 28 Task Force in Chibok, Borno State, and his three soldiers in a confrontation with terrorists in Askira Uba, Borno State.
Buhari praised the victims’ bravery and referred to them as martyrs.
Nigeria had lost brave warriors, he stated in a statement released by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu.
“Nigeria has suffered the loss of valiant troops. I applaud their bravery. May their souls find eternal rest. General Zirkusu has left us feeling sad and bereft. “The soldier in him will live forever,” he declared.
The President requested the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Faruk Yahaya, to accept his and the nation’s profound condolences and to convey them to the families of those killed.
Borno Governor, Professor Babagana Umara Zulum, has commended the Nigerian military for putting up a strong resilience in a battle with fighters from the Islamic State of West Africa Province, who launched attacks on a military base in Askira/Uba Local Government Area of Southern Borno State, on Saturday morning.
Governor Zulum, in a statement by his spokesman, Malam Isa Gusau, paid tribute to troops at the base as well as troops from neighboring commands, who mobilised to provide reinforcement before they were ambushed.
Governor Zulum, while commiserating with the military over the loss of some military officers and personnel, thanked the fallen heroes for what he called “their supreme sacrifices to the Nigerian Nation”, declaring that “the people of Borno will remain forever grateful to them and all fallen heroes, and will remain fully supported of gallant troops currently operating in front lines”.