Abuja:Five members of the Nigerian air force were killed when a helicopter crashed as Boko Haram militants ambushed a military base in northeastern Nigeria, a spokesman said Thursday.
Air force spokesman Ibikunle Daramola said the five crew members had died when the helicopter “crashed in combat” on January 2 while providing close air support to troops fighting off a Boko Haram attack in Damasak, a town near the border with Niger.
The victims included two pilots, two gunners and a flight technician, he said.
The attack was one of four raids on military posts this week in a region which has been ravaged by jihadist violence, which in recent months has particularly targeted troops in the northeastern states of Borno and Yobe.
All four raids were claimed by a Boko Haram faction called ISWAP, the Islamic State West Africa Province, which said it had killed 14 soldiers and taken another hostage, according to the SITE Intelligence Group which monitors jihadist activities.
Details are scant on what downed the helicopter, but if it was fired on by the jihadists, it would suggest that they now possess more sophisticated weapons than those used in the last four years of fighting.
Since July there has been an upsurge in Boko Haram attacks on military bases, almost all of them in the region around Lake Chad.
In November, militants raided a base in the Nigerian village of Metele, near the border with Niger, leaving at least 44 soldiers dead, although troops who survived put the death toll at more than 100.
With a February election looming, the Nigerian military has been at pains to stress that the situation is under control, rarely releasing casualty figures, except for Wednesday’s crash.
President Muhammadu Buhari, who came to power in 2015 on the promise to end the violence, is under increasing pressure to act following the recent surge in attacks.
He will seek reelection in February 16 ballot.
Boko Haram’s bloody insurgency began in northeastern Nigeria in 2009 but has since spread into neighbouring countries, prompting a regional military response.
In Nigeria alone, more than 27,000 people have been killed over the past decade, and some 1.8 million people have been forced out of their homes by the violence.