By Senator Iroegbu in Abuja, Michael Olugbode in Maiduguri and Seriki Adinoyi in Jos
As assault on Sambisa forest resumed, the Nigerian military has deployed more equipment to enhance the speed of the operation to flush out terrorists from their last known stronghold.
Military sources had informed THISDAY that the troops remain undeterred and have deployed mine sweepers in the forest to rid the area of deadly mines, just at the Nigerian Air Force has stepped air raids to stop Boko Haram insurgents from amassing.
This was also confirmed by Director of Defence Information (DDI), Maj-Gen. Chris Olukolade, who said that more military equipment, arms and ammunitions have been deployed and assured that the outcome of the operation will be made known to the members of the public as at when due.
“Additional equipment efforts have been deployed to clear mines and obstacles in order to enhance speed towards the objectives in the forest. Progress will be reported as necessary,” he said.
Also, the military has refuted reports alleging that its ground forces have retreated from the Sambisa forest. This allegation was fuelled by the reported killing of a soldier and three vigilante members by a landmine.
But Maj-Gen. Olukolade in response to THISDAY inquiries yesterday described the claims by Reuters as false. Reuters, quoting a vigilante and security source, had reported the pullback from the forest, a day after an offensive aimed at rooting out the insurgents.
“The soldiers have retreated to Bama because of mines. They had been on the road but that made them vulnerable, so they moved to the bush but there are mines planted there (too),” one soldier, who did not want to be named, told Reuters.
Olukolade, in confirmation of what military sources told THISDAY last week, insisted that the military has neither retreated nor stopped the onslaught against the Boko Haram terrorists in the Sambisa forest.
“The claims and media reports that troops have retreated from Sambisa forest is false,” he said.
THISDAY was the first to break the story on the deployment of ground forces a week today to destroy the last terrorists’ enclave and as well as search and rescue the Chibok girls.
The Sambisa forest, which is a former colonial game reserve, is about 100 km (60 miles) from the village of Chibok, from where Boko Haram abducted more than 200 secondary school girls a year ago.
Meanwhile, the terrorists seem to have regrouped and are fighting to regain towns they lost to the military recently.
A member of the youth vigilante group, Luqman Indi told our correspondent in Maiduguri that two towns, Marte and Mafa were attacked by the insurgents between Thursday and Friday.
According to him, over 2,000 Boko Haram insurgents who were armed with sophisticated weapons on Thursday laid siege on Marte.
Marte is a border town between Nigeria and Cameroon in northern part of Borno State. It is located in the western coast of the Lake Chad, and this will be the third time the insurgents took over Marte, first in 2012 but were chased out by Nigerian troops shortly after the declaration of State of Emergency in 2013.
They also launched a major attack on the town in 2014 when they captured it until they were pushed back before the last elections.
Indi said some of the local vigilante group in Kirenowa, the major town in Marte, reported to them in Maiduguri that the insurgent invaded the town from various locations and succeeded in dislodging Nigerian troops stationed in the area.
Scores of people, he added, were killed in the attack and some structures destroyed.
“We were told the insurgents wreaked havoc in Kirenowa and environs this time around, it was unfortunate that this came when the residents that fled the area were beginning to go back.
“The fighting continued till early Friday when the soldiers retreated. The town has fallen and insurgents are fully in charge, they are more than 2000 in number.”
But a military source dismissed the fall of Marte as untrue, insisting that there was still an on-going battle between the troops and the insurgents.
He also said: “It is true the military and the insurgents were drawn in battle at Marte, but I can tell you that the operation is on-going, we would not allow any part of this country to be held hostage by any hoodlums.”
On the attack on Mafa, Indi said the insurgents came in large number at about 6pm but met a stiff battle from the military.
He added that the terrorists retreated when they were not making any headway.
In another development, an explosion which went off at the headquarters of 3rd Armoured Division, Maxwell Khobe Cantonment in Jos yesterday at about 9:45am, has killed two soldiers and left another with severe injuries.
The explosion reportedly went off at a section where troops were working to transport unserviceable ammunition in the barracks for demolition when the explosion occurred, killing the two soldiers and injuring another. The city’s residents were gripped with panic, as they feared another terrorist attack.
Deputy Director, Army Public Relations officer of the Division, Col. Texas Chukwu, who confirmed the incident in a statement yesterday, said: “I want to use this medium to state that this cantonment was not under attack or attacked by the insurgents. There is an on-going demolition exercise which started on Wednesday, 20th April 2015 to terminate on the 4th May,2015.
“The public were informed in the media. The explosion heard in the cantonment was from an accident that occurred while troops authorised to destroy unserviceable ammunition exploded in the process of being moved to the demolition site.
“The explosion did not affect the cantonment or the neighbouring communities. Unfortunately, two soldiers lost their lives and one sustained injuries. Normalcy has since returned to the area.”
Also, the Director of Army Public Relations (DAPR), Col. Sani Usman, in a statement clarified that some of the unserviceable ammunitions exploded in the process of moving them to demolition site in the bush.
“This is to inform the public that the explosion heard in Jos, Plateau State this morning (yesterday) was from an accident that occurred while troops authorised to destroy unservicable ammunitions were transporting the bad ammunition,” Usman said.
He also disclosed that the explosion did not affect the barracks or neighbouring communities.
Normalcy has since returned to the area.
The latest explosion is a grim reminder that Plateau State, especially the state capital of Jos, has witnessed series of deadly bombings in recent months with the latest being the blast at a bus station last February, which killed over 13 people and injured more than 14 others.
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