The ambush happened as the military tried to launch an offensive against the Boko Haram militants, according to a military official with knowledge of the operation that started over the weekend. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media about the matter.
The soldiers initially were able to fight back and escape, the official said. They launched another offensive a day or so later and were then attacked from the rear at a place near the village of Goneri called the Gorge, he said.
The Boko Haram fighters inflicted heavy casualties by firing on troop vehicles with rocket-propelled grenades and guns, he said. Survivors were being treated at hospitals in Damaturu and Maiduguri. A senior army officer confirmed the attack, calling it a huge setback for Nigeria’s army and saying he lost a friend.
The government also confirmed the attack, but did not give a death toll. “The Nigerian military suffered some casualties in the unfortunate attack,” a Nigerian army spokesman, Maj. Gen. John Enenche, said Tuesday.
Boko Haram has killed tens of thousands during its 10-year insurgency in northern Nigeria.
AP writer Sam Olukoya in Lagos, Nigeria contributed to this report.