Boko Haram insurgents attacked two military bases in northeast Nigeria’s Borno state, near the border with Cameroon, injuring six soldiers, two military sources told AFP on Sunday.
Early on Sunday, troops fought off an attack by fighters believed to be from the Abubakar Shekau-led faction of Boko Haram in the town of Pulka, around 90 km (56 miles) southeast of Borno state capital Maiduguri, close to the Cameroon border.
“The terrorists attacked around 1:15 a.m. and soldiers engaged them in a 30-minute fight, forcing them to withdraw,” a military officer said in an account confirmed by another officer.
The fighters’ intention was to attack and loot the town after overrunning the base, said the officer, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorised to speak to the media.
Late on Saturday another base in Logomani village near the town of Gamboru was attacked, leading to a fight that left six soldiers injured.
“Troops came under attack by Boko Haram terrorists who came in four gun trucks around 6:30 p.m.,” the second officer told AFP.
“Six soldiers were wounded from bomb fragments,” he said.
ISIS said in a statement that Islamic State West Africa province fighters were responsible for the attack in Logomani, claiming that 30 soldiers were killed and others injured.
AFP had earlier reported that fighters from the Shekau faction were responsible.
Boko Haram split into two factions in mid-2016. One is led by Abu Mus’ab Al-Barnawi and largely focuses on attacking military and government targets, while the other, led by Abubakar Shekau, is notorious for suicide bombings and indiscriminate killings of civilians.
Shekau pledged allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, but ISIS central only gives formal backing to the Barnawi faction, which is known as Islamic State West Africa province.
Both factions of Boko Haram have intensified attacks in the region over several months, but the upsurge in ISWA attacks has been much more serious. Amid signs of a takeover by more hardline leaders, the group has launched dozens of assaults on military targets in Borno and Yobe states, and ISWA attacks have increasingly featured in ISIS propaganda.
The army said Nigerian troops killed four suspected Boko Haram militants as they cleared a “hideout” in Makinta Meleri in Borno state on January 25. It is unclear which faction they were from.
On January 20, troops “successfully defeated Boko Haram terrorists” who attacked a military base in Buni Yadi in Yobe state, the army said. Military sources told AFP that four soldiers were killed in the attack which they blamed on ISWA.
Troops killed five militants in the Baga area of Borno state on January 19 that during an assault later claimed by ISIS as an ISWA attack. Nigerian troops returned to Baga on January 9 after a wave of ISWA attacks against military bases in late December that forced more than 30,000 civilians to flee.
Also on January 19, two Boko Haram fighters were killed in operations near Kajeri Maye village in the Mafa district of Borno, the army said. It is unclear which faction the militants belonged to.
Sources told AFP that six soldiers were killed and 14 injured in a January 18 attack on a military base in Kamuya. ISIS claimed in its al-Naba magazine on January 25 that ISWA fighters carried out the attack.
On January 17, Shekau’s Boko Haram faction claimed in a video that its fighters carried out an attack on Rann, near the border with Cameroon, on January 14. Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) said that 14 people including three soldiers were killed in the assault and around 10,000 people already displaced by the conflict were forced to flee.
The attacks come as Nigeria gears up for crucial elections with security becoming a major campaign issue.
Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari was elected in 2015 on a promise to end the conflict and he is seeking a second term in the presidential election on February 16. National Assembly elections will be held the same day, while regional polls are set for March 2.
Buhari said in December 2015 that Boko Haram was “technically defeated” after a sustained counter-insurgency. But on January 9 he acknowledged setbacks in the fight-back, including “battle fatigue” among soldiers from a wave of guerrilla style hit-and-run tactics and suicide bombings.
More than 27,000 people have been killed since the insurgency began in 2009, and 1.8 million people are still homeless and in need of humanitarian assistance.
With reporting from AFP. This post was updated to include the ISIS statement.