The Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, on Wednesday said only 23 soldiers were killed in the Boko Haram attack on Nigerian Army 157 Task Force Battalion.
He also put the number of troops wounded in action at 31.
While it remained unclear the number of soldiers wounded in the attack on November 18, top military sources, including rescue team members, said that at least 118 soldiers were killed.
The number was besides the several military rescuers who were killed in another Boko Haram ambush on November 19. The rescue team had arrived in Metele, a Borno State and home to the 157 Task Force Battalion, to evacuate the bodies of soldiers who had been killed after Boko Haram members overran the base at about 6:00 p.m. the day before.
Some media outlets, including London-based newswire Reuters, placed casualty figures at about 100 as of November 22, four days after the attack.
A soldier who was attached to the 157 Task Force Battalion but escaped the attack told PREMIUM TIMES over 70 of his colleagues were killed.
This newspaper later gathered from top military sources overseeing the aftermath of the incident that 118 bodies have been counted as of November 24, six days after the attack. The sources also said 153 troops were missing in action.
The 118 soldiers killed in the November 18 attack included Ibrahim Sakaba, a lieutenant colonel and commander of the battalion, his second-in-command, the battalion’s intelligence officer and two other officers.
Neither the Nigerian Army nor the Defence Headquarters released any official statement of the Boko Haram attack in the early days, and both institutions’ public communications managers repeatedly declined to speak with PREMIUM TIMES before this newspaper broke the news on November 20.
The Army issued its first statement on November 24, following relentless media coverage and widespread outrage amongst Nigerians. But the statement merely acknowledged the terrorists had struck again in Metele and threatened social media users to desist from circulating false information; rather than give useful information about the attack, especially the casualty figures and how the military was responding to the aftermath.
The Army rejected calls to disclose its own casualty figures from the attack, until Mr Buratai appeared at a military function in Maiduguri on Wednesday.
As of November 28, “23 personnel were killed in action and 31 personnel were wounded in action,” Mr Buratai said at the 2018 Chief of Army Staff Annual Conference in Maiduguri, according to excerpts of his comments circulated by Sani Usman, a brigadier-general and former Army spokesperson.
A spokesperson for the Nigerian Army did not immediately return calls seeking comments about whether Mr Buratai’s figures came off-the-cuff or were drawn from official military count.
The Nigerian Army and its sister security agencies have long been known to downplay casualty figures of own personnel and civilians, while exaggerating the losses of enemy combatants.
Mr Buratai said the wounded have been evacuated to several hospitals across Borno State, the heartland of Boko Haram insurgency.
He said the 157 Task Force Battalion was part of the Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF) contingent deployed against Boko Haram. He commisserated with the MNJTF, which has its headquarters in N’djamena, Republic of Chad.
“All necessary support will be rendered to the MNJTF to reverse this resurgence of the Boko Haram,” Mr Buratai added, insisting that the jihadist group has been degraded.
“The Nigerian Army wishes to further commiserate with the families of the gallant officers and soldiers that paid the supreme price in the course of defending their fatherland,” Mr Buratai said. “The sacrifices of these fallen heroes will not be in vain.”