In a first of its kind since the more than a decade-old insurgency war started, the Nigerian Army on Saturday lost a Brigadier-General commanding a Special Forces team, in an ambush by terrorists of the Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP) in Borno State.
However, the military countered the attack by ISWAP with heavy bombardment of the insurgents, following the deployment of three fighter jets to contain the terrorists.
In a swift reaction, President Muhammadu Buhari and Borno State governor, Prof. Babagana Zulum have mourned the slain officer Commanding the 28 Task Force Brigade in Chibok, Borno State, Brigadier General Dzarma Zirkusu and three other soldiers killed by the ISWAP fighters.
Buhari expressed deep sadness over the death of the Brigadier General and three soldiers who paid the supreme sacrifice in a very rare display of gallantry as they tried to help their compatriots in the war against terrorists.
The president, in a statement issued by his spokesman, Mallam Garba Shehu, stressed that “Nigeria has lost brave soldiers and I salute their courage.
“May their souls Rest In Peace. General Zirkusu leaves us sad and devastated. The soldier in him will remain immortal,” Buhari said.
He urged the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Faruk Yahaya, to accept his heartfelt condolences and that of the nation, and convey same to the members of the families of those martyred.
“I pray to the Almighty to give you and the bereaved families the strength and courage to bear this irreparable loss,” the President added.
In his reaction, Borno State Governor, Zulum has also commended the Nigerian military for putting up strong resilience in a battle with the ISWAP fighters, who launched the attacks on a military base in Askira/Uba LGA of southern Borno State.
Zulum, in a statement by his spokesman, Malam Isa Gusau, paid tribute to troops at the base as well as troops from neighbouring commands, who mobilised to reinforce before they were ambushed.
The governor, 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 fully support gallant troops currently operating in front lines”.
He noted that amid the loss of some officers and personnel, the military was able to mount heavy resistance and recorded gains which the state is proud of.
He commiserated with affected residents for the trauma caused by the attack and shared the pains of anyone who may have turned victim directly and otherwise.
“We must always affirm our fates in our armed forces, while the armed forces must remain up and doing. We must always recognise what we already know, that insurgents are always plotting with the elements of surprise. Our troops must redouble efforts to be ahead of insurgents. I salute our troops for the resistance put up today. I salute troops who mobilised to provide reinforcement. I salute the sacrifices of some officers and men we lost today and share the grieves of the immediate families and the Nigerian military. We thank these fallen heroes for their supreme sacrifices to the Nigerian nation. The people of Borno will remain forever grateful to them and all fallen heroes, and will remain fully supported by gallant troops currently operating in front lines,” Zulum said as quoted in the statement.
The Nigerian Army confirmed the death of the Commander of the 28 Task Force Brigade in Chibok, Borno State, Brigadier General Zirkusu, and three other soldiers in the attack by ISWAP in the Askira Uba Local Government Area of Borno State.
Reacting to the incident, the Borno State Governor, Professor Babagana Umara Zulum has commended the Nigerian military for putting up strong resilience in the battle with the terrorists, who launched attacks on a military base in Askira/Uba LGA in the southern part of the state.
This is coming as Nigeria, Niger, and the Republic of Benin have concluded plans to establish a border force in a renewed bid to contain criminalities in their borders.
The late Brigadier General Zirkusu was in January 2021, redeployed from the Headquarters 1 Brigade, Gusau to Headquarters 28 Task Force Brigade, Chibok, and appointed Commander.
Before he was killed on Saturday, the highest-ranking army officers killed by terrorists in the northeast were colonels.
While the Commander of the 25 Task Force Brigade of the Nigerian Army, Damboa, Colonel Dahiru Bako, was killed by Boko Haram terrorists in September 2020, the Commanding Officer of the Chief of Army Staff Mobile Intervention Battalion in Borno, Col. Hussaini Samaila Sankara died in July 2021 following the injuries he sustained when his vehicle ran into a landmine/IED of Boko Haram.
The IED blast incident, which occurred on May 30 between Marte and Dikwa, also killed some soldiers who were in the same vehicle as to the late Sankara.
Though the Nigerian Army yesterday confirmed the death of three other soldiers, sources from the frontlines put the number of soldiers reportedly killed during the operation which occurred at Bulguma at four.
Bulguma is a few kilometres from Askira town in Askira Uba LGA.
According to the sources, the troops of 28 Task Force Brigade, Chibok, were ambushed on their way to reinforce Askira, which was under attack by the ISWAP fighters, who had stormed the town in a large convoy of gun trucks.
In a statement issued on Saturday by the Director, Army Public Relations, Brigadier-General Onyema Nwachukwu, the Army stated that the troops of Joint Task Force, North East Operation Hadin Kai were engaged in a fierce gun battle with the terrorists which also led to the death of the Brigadier-General and three other soldiers.
The statement read in part: “A gallant senior officer, Brigadier-General Dzarma Zirkusu, and three soldiers paid the supreme sacrifice in a very rare display of gallantry as they reinforced a counteroffensive against the terrorists, and successfully defended the location”.
The statement added that the families of the senior officer and soldiers had been contacted.
“The Chief of Army Staff Lt. Gen. Farouk Yahaya deeply commiserates with the families and relations of the fallen heroes. He has also directed that the troops continue in the ferocious counteroffensive and hot pursuit to eliminate the remnant of the fleeing terrorists.”
Nwachukwu, in the statement, also noted that the military had deployed five A – Jet, two A-29, and two Dragon combat with which they destroyed nine gun trucks and one armoured personnel carrier of the terrorists.
He added that the battle was still on at the time he filed the statement.
Meanwhile, the military has also disclosed that airstrikes conducted by the air component of Operation Hadin Kai decimated scores of insurgents, who gathered for a meeting in the Marte area of Lake Chad.
After receiving credible intelligence that ISWAP terrorists were converging at a location in Marte for a meeting in Lake Chad on Saturday, NAF aircraft under Operation Hadin Kai were immediately deployed to survey and dislodge the gathering.
THISDAY gathered that while observing the area, it was noticed that another boat came with more fighters surrounding a likely high-profile personality as seen from the way he was being followed around with a flag.
After confirming that the meeting was ongoing, the pilots got the go-ahead to strike.
Other sources also confirmed that top ISWAP Commanders that were at the scene at the time of the strikes included Muhammed Bako, Special Militant Forces Commander (Rijal Ann), Muhammad Malumma, a Chief Judge of Marte; Goni Mustapha, the Chief Imam.
Others included Muhammed Ba’ana, recently appointed Commander of Kirta; Muhammed Ali, Amir of Kwalaram; Ibn Umar, Chief Prosecutor; Bakura Gana, Commander of Jubularam; and Malam Musa, Amir of Jubularam amongst others were either injured or killed in the strike.
It was not certain if the new Wali, Shuwaram was among those killed or injured in the attack.
In another development, the National Security Adviser (NSA), Maj. Gen. Babagana Monguno (rtd), has disclosed that Nigeria, the Republic of Benin, and the Republic of Niger have also launched tripartite Joint Border Patrol Teams (JBPTs) in a bid to strengthen border security in the three neighbouring countries.
Monguno has also stated that terrorist groups, Boko Haram and the ISWAP remained transnational threats to Nigeria.
Arms smuggling and unrestrained movement of armed groups through unmanned borders have fuelled insurgency and armed banditry which ravaged Nigeria and Niger while Benin suffered maritime crimes.
Monguno stated these in a paper themed: ‘Combating Persistent and Emerging Threats to Regional Peace and Security in Africa: Pivotal Role of Nigeria’ at the Internal Partnership Forum in Paris.
He said Africa’s porous borders remained a major source of concern as this aided smuggling of prohibited items and irregular migration as well as other transnational organised crimes.
“Nigeria is bordered to the North by Niger, to the East by Chad and Cameroon to the South by the Gulf of Guinea of the Atlantic Ocean, and to the West by Benin.
“However, Nigeria’s extensive land and maritime borders are incredibly porous and poorly manned. This has placed added responsibility on the border security agencies. In this regard, the Nigeria Customs Service has developed the E-Customs strategy while the Nigeria Immigrations Service has equally put in place an Integrated Border Management System (IBMS)”, he said.
Monguno said the move was aimed at strengthening border security.
“It is necessary to observe that both strategies place a premium on employing technology to complement other existing physical border security arrangements. “Furthermore, as part of efforts at strengthening border security, tripartite Joint Border Patrol Teams (JBPTs) comprising Nigeria, Niger, and Benin Republics were recently established to curb the increasing scale of smuggling of prohibited items as well as irregular migration across the nations’ borders.
“This has greatly reduced the scale of transnational organised crimes. We are also exploring the feasibility of setting up a border security force in the foreseeable future to secure Nigeria’s border areas”, he said.
Monguno stated that terrorist groups, Boko Haram and the ISWAP remained transnational threats to Nigeria.
He said the African continent was not immune to such global security concerns.
Kingsley Nwezeh in Abuja