Nigerian Army chief tells troops their fight is a just cause as Abuja confirms at least 36 soldiers were killed in action
At least 36 Nigerian soldiers attached to Operation Whirl Punch were killed in two attacks during operations against armed gangs in the northern-central state of Niger, the military said on Thursday.
Defence spokesman Major-General Edward Buba said the fatalities include three officers and 22 soldiers, with seven soldiers wounded during an ambush around Kundu village in the Shiroro local government area in Niger state on Aug. 14.
Nigerian Army chief Lt-General Taoreed Lagbaja on morale boosting visit to Forward Operating Base Erena. Photo NA
An Air Force Mi-171 helicopter despatched to evacuate the casualties crashed near Chukuba village in Shiroro on Monday, killing others. While Buba didn’t confirm the cause of the crash, two military sources told Reuters the helicopter was probably brought down after gang members shot at it.
“The helicopter crashed with 14 of the earlier killed in action personnel, seven of the earlier wounded in action personnel, two pilots and two crew members,” Buba said in a statement.
Following the deadly ambush and heli crash, the Army Chief of Staff (COAS) Lt-General Taoreed Lagbaja visited Forward Operating Base Erena which was an abandoned school premises in Shiroro LGA of Niger state, where he was briefed on the current security situation by the General Officer Commanding (GOC) 1 Division and force commander Operation Whirl Punch Major-General Bamidele Alabi.
After the brief, the COAS urged the troops to rally together and be more resolute in bringing the nation’s adversaries to their knees and restore sanity in troubled areas. He maintained that the fight against insurgents and bandits is a just cause, in defence of Nigerians and the nation.
“Protecting lives and defending your nation are the noblest service anyone can offer. You are therefore in the noble profession of arms and must not allow your morale to dwindle. We must defeat the adversaries of our people and take back every inch of space where they are hibernating in our land”, the Army chief added.
The Nigerian Air Force (NAF) in a statement condemned those who shared videos of the crash site.
“For those aiding and abetting the propaganda tendencies of terrorists, deliberately or inadvertently, by spreading the videos of the alleged crash site with gory pictures of dead military personnel, the need to rethink the consequences of their actions on the morale of troops, families of deceased personnel as well as on Nigeria’s national security is imperative.”
Gangs of heavily armed men have wreaked havoc across northwest Nigeria in the past two years, kidnapping thousands, killing hundreds and making it unsafe to travel by road or to farm in some areas.
Attacks by gangs, often referred to locally as bandits, have confounded Nigeria’s security forces, who have been stretched as they tackle a violent secessionist group in the east, a deadly herder-farmer crisis in the central states, and a 13-year insurgency against Islamist groups Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) in the north.
Akowe reporting from Abuja with materials from X, NAN and Reuters