Some soldiers have fled in the face of attacks rather than staying to fight, according to accounts from residents.
Abubakar, 13, said he was coming home from school in the town of Gubio in late August when he saw several soldiers racing through the village. “Run for your lives,” they were screaming as they fled, he said. “Boko Haram is coming!”
The boy, whom The Times is not identifying for security reasons, said he watched as soldiers stripped off their uniforms and changed into everyday clothes. They parked their army truck under a tree, piled into a civilian car and sped away.
Another woman from Gubio, whom The Times is also not identifying, said that four terrified soldiers joined her family in hiding, and five more hid in her neighbor’s house. She said they kept silent inside for two days as militants ransacked the town and loudly bragged about how easy it was to seize.
Most of the residents and soldiers fled during the attack, which killed at least three people, officials said. Several days later, Boko Haram returned, looting a hospital of its medicine and setting fire to government buildings and military tents. They sped off in vehicles that the military had left behind.
That attacks were thought by officials to be carried out by the Islamic State West African Province, a splinter group of about 3,000 fighters that has been endorsed by leaders of the Islamic State. The faction split in 2016 from forces commanded by Boko Haram’s longtime leader Abubakar Shekau, over disapproval of his attacks on Muslim civilians.
Since 2018, the Islamic State faction, which has received propaganda guidance from the Islamic State in Syria, has attacked a brigade headquarters and the hub for a multinational military effort to fight terrorism, swiping large amounts of machinery and weapons, according to officials and analysts.