“Up until now 23 troops have not been accounted for. They include five officers and 18 soldiers,” a military officer in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, told AFP on condition of anonymity.
“They came under attack from Boko Haram terrorists in Balagallaye village in the Boboshe area outside Bama,” the officer said.
The officer said that on Friday afternoon the soldiers had received a report that “around 100 terrorists” had gathered in Boboshe and that the “troops mobilised to fight them”.
“Only three vehicles have made it back to Bama, the remaining eight and scores of soldiers are still missing. Their fate is still unclear,” he said.
“We lost eight vehicles. That’s a lot,” the officer added.
A member of the civilian militia confirmed the officer’s account, saying that “dozens” of soldiers are still missing.
“It is not known if they escaped into the bush, were killed or captured,” he said.
“You know it is now rainy season and the roads are water-logged. The convoy got stuck in the mud and Boko Haram opened fire. It was a perfect ambush and the soldiers were on the defensive,” he said.
“So far three vehicles have returned. The other eight have either been destroyed or captured by Boko Haram.”
The group’s Islamist insurgency has devastated the region since 2009, leaving at least 20,000 dead, displacing more than two million others and triggering a humanitarian crisis.
Despite persistent attacks, President Muhammadu Buhari maintains that Nigeria is in a “post-conflict stabilisation phase”.
The former military ruler came to power three years ago on a promise to defeat Boko Haram, which is aligned to the Islamic State group and threatens security in the Lake Chad region.
But while there have been clear military gains since a counter-insurgency was launched in 2015, suicide bombings and raids remain a constant threat, particularly to civilians.