Jihadists aligned with the Islamic State militant group have captured a military base in northeast Nigeria’s Borno state after overnight clashes with troops, sources told AFP on Saturday.
Machine-gun wielding fighters from Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) attacked the base in the town of Marte in the Lake Chad area overnight Friday into Saturday, two sources said.
“The priority now is to reclaim the base from the terrorists, and an operation is underway,” one of the sources said.
“We took a hit from ISWAP terrorists. They raided the base in Marte after a fierce battle.”
The second source said the army “incurred losses,” but it was not yet clear how many people had died or the level of destruction inflicted by the insurgents.
ISWAP, which split from Boko Haram in 2016, maintains camps on Lake Chad islands — where Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon, and Chad meet — and the area is known to be the group’s bastion.
Last week, the jihadists attacked the Marte base but were repelled, prompting them to mobilize more fighters for the overnight raid, said the sources.
The raid was seen as a “fightback” after recent losses — troops recently overran ISWAP’s second largest camp in Talala village, said the sources.
In November last year, officials began the phased return of residents to Marte six years after the jihadists pushed them out.
The town, 130 kilometers (80 miles) from the regional capital Maiduguri, was once considered the Lake Chad region’s breadbasket.
At least 36,000 people have been killed in the jihadist conflict since 2009, and violence has spread into neighboring Niger, Chad, and Cameroon, prompting a regional military coalition.