Reports claiming that some 105 Nigerian soldiers disappeared during a battle with Boko Haram terrorists in the country's northeast are misleading, the army told IBTImes UK. Colonel Sani Usman, spokesperson for the army, said during a phone interview that no soldiers were reported missing.
The colonel made the remarks a day after dozens of people took to Twitter demanding the release of the soldiers under the hashtag #BringBackOurSoldiers amid fears they had been kidnapped by the terrorists.
The latest claim was first reported by the Premium Times, which quoted a source as saying the militants also captured a T-72 tank and several artillery weapons from the army unit.
Usman said: "Boko Haram made an attempt of attack, but it was repelled. The claim that the 105 soldiers disappeared is not correct. We haven't lost anybody and the soldiers rejoined the unit.
"We are fighting the terrorists and we have a presidential mandate to make sure they are defeated by December," he continued. "By the end of the year, we have to make sure that Boko Haram will not have freedom of movement and action. In terms of the operation, we have been succeeding."
When asked whether the army believes Boko Haram will cease its attacks by 2016, Usman said: "I did not say there won't be any attacks. By December, Boko Haram will be depleted and deprived of freedom of movement and action. Indirectly it will be defeated."
Who are Nigeria's Boko Haram terrorists?
Boko Haram (recently renamed Iswap) fights against Western influence in Nigeria and aims to impose its version of Sharia law in the country.
The group declared an Islamic caliphate in Gwoza, along the Cameroon border, in August 2014.
Boko Haram has raided several cities in the north of the country in a bid to take control of more territory. Three states − Adamawa, Borno and Yobe − have been under a state of emergency since May 2013, due to Boko Haram's attacks.
Boko Haram has killed between 17,000 and 20,000 people since its insurgency became violent in 2009. The group directs its attacks at three states in Nigeria − Adamawa, Yobe and Borno − and northern Cameroon, with coordinated bombings also occurring in other parts of Nigeria, as well as Chad and Niger. In recent months, Chad and Niger have declared a state of emergency in areas affected by Boko Haram attacks.
Earlier this year, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buahri announced that a new Nigeria-led taskforce – consisting of 8,700 troops from Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Cameroon and Benin – was ready to take over in the ongoing regional fight against the terrorists.
In recent months, the Nigerian government has been claiming that Boko Haram is surrendering, but the group − now affiliated with the Islamic State (Isis) terrorists − has disputed the claims in an audio message. The voice identified in the broadcast is thought to belong to Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, who was rumoured to have been replaced after his conspicuous absence from the group's recent videos.
Some analysts have criticised Buhari after urging the military to defeat Boko Haram by November, a deadline subsequently moved to December. Analysts argued that more time was needed to defeat the group, now deemed the world's deadliest terror group.