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Secret military cemeteries cover charge of Islamist rebellion in Nigeria

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria – At the northern end of the scattered military base of this city, a vast field of muddy soil hides the hidden charge of a deadly offensive by Islamic State allies.

After dark, the bodies of the soldiers are secretly transported by the morgue, which at times is so crowded, the corpses are delivered by truck, according to Nigerian soldiers, diplomats and a senior government official. The bodies were laid with a flashlight in trenches dug by infantrymen or local villagers, paying a few dollars a shift.

"Several of my comrades were buried in unmarked graves at night," says a soldier from the barracks in Maimalari, where more than 1,000 soldiers are based. "They die and are deleted from history."

The secret cemetery in Maimalari is not the only one in Nigeria's troubled northeast, said a top government official.

Mercy Tamun in Abuja, Nigeria, with her husband's uniform, Officials told her he was killed in an outpost rebel attack in the northeastern part of the country.

Funerals convey a picture contrary to the war of Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari, a former general who has repeatedly claimed that his army has won. [19659007] The reality is that Africa's largest land force – an allied counterterrorism of the United States – is fighting an uprising that first broke out a decade ago and is now rejuvenated by the Islamic State and the return of fighters from Libya, Syria and Iraq.

Rebels now control hundreds of square miles of territory in four countries around the Lake Chad Basin, the crossroads of Africa, where military units from the United States, Britain and France have bases or provide special forces training. On Sunday, gunmen attacked a funeral in the outskirts of Maiduguri, killing at least 65 people, according to government officials.

"This group is one of the most effective, if not the most effective contingent of the Islamic State at present,"

the Government of Nigeria last summer reported the death of soldiers in its battle with the Boko Haram rebels and a cleavage group calling itself the Islamic State of West Africa. Mr Buhari was re-elected in February after a security-focused campaign in which he reiterated that Islamist riots in Nigeria had been "technically defeated".


The head of the Islamic State of ISWAP and the Boko Haram uprising of thousands of fighters in northeast Nigeria.

The head of the Islamic State of ISWAP and the rebellion in Boko Haram have thousands of fighters in northeastern Nigeria.

But the scattered secret cemetery in Maiduguri and the official base cemetery, the operational command of the northeast front in Borno, now hold the bodies of at least 1,000 soldiers killed after terrorist groups launched an offensive last summer, according to soldiers and soldiers – some of whom have estimated a far greater number of casualties.

The Nigerian military and the Presidency did not respond to requests for comment regarding war, casualties and secret cemeteries.

In November, Mercy Tamun was told of her husband, Ada, killed in an attack by rebels on a post in Cross Kauva, a town about 100 miles north of Maiduguri. When she wanted to see where he was buried, she was taken to the official cemetery in Maimalari, where the graves were marked with plywood tombstones. There, she was taken to a place marked with a plastic bottle with her husband's name.

"It was the only one marked that way. I'm not sure this is his grave, but this is what the army told me, "said Mrs. Tamuno.

Two soldiers from Lance Cpl. Tamun's squad stated that he had been buried days earlier in a secret cemetery.

"We know he is buried in an unmarked grave.

As the secret cemetery at the Maimalari Barracks grows, the military expands the area into neighboring fields." Agricultural land is fenced. so they can bury the forces, "says Sarah James, a 50-year-old farmer whose husband is a retired soldier.

Sarah James, in java, with others living near the barracks in Maimalari, Maiduguri, said women had given up land they had cultivated for years to make way for the cemetery to expand on the base.

Nigeria's troops were building that barrier. to encircle those that were arable land at the northern end of the Maiduguri base, on the other hand is an expanding cemetery.

Official secrecy and a weak economy leave Nigerian soldiers ill prepared for battle. Soldiers who usually rotate every few months have been active operations for years. Morale collapses and discipline begins to crumble, said soldiers and a senior government official.

Videos reviewed by The Wall Street Journal show that Nigerian troops carry out ominous punishments on suspected jihadists. The videos, which show the dismemberment and killing of suspects, suggest the troops are traumatized and in need of human rights training, said David Otto, director of security firm Global Risk International.

Units that have suffered casualties and reduced morale are not & # 39; t able to attack and instead defend poorly constructed bases in open areas against an increasingly equipped enemy.

"There is a systematic misrepresentation of the war that has severe tactical and operational implications," said Chidi Nvoanu, a former Nigerian soldier who now runs the security consultancy Voks Pekavi.

He said that the courage of the troops was undermined by the bad decisions of senior commanders. "It's part of the cocktail, partly a conspiracy," he says.

The rapid rise of the Nigerian Islamic State, known as ISWAP, begins a new chapter on the jihadist movement after its defeat in Syria and Iraq, Nigeria and the West, officials said. The group has approximately 5,000 fighters who have established themselves in the border areas around Lake Chad, where they have become involved in communities, control trade routes, tax the fishing industry and impose an extremist brand of Islamic justice.

Military Security Service, Main Road, Maiduguri.

Islamic State commanders advised them to focus their attacks on security forces, unlike Boko Haram, who unleashed hundreds of suicides and shot himself to death in 2014, kidnapping 276 female students. ISWAP usually attacks at night when the Nigerian air force is less effective.

President Trump offered additional US support for Nigeria's military. US experts train Nigerian bomb squads, and US in November contracts Sierra Nevada Corp for $ 329 million for 12 lightweight A-29 attack aircraft on the Nigerian Air Force to complete 2024.

Western military officials say Nigerian Army it is stretched so thin that its finest brass no longer speaks seriously of defeating the uprising, but simply contains it.

In a video released by the Islamic State in June, the rebels pose for seized tanks, armored personnel carriers and naval vessels and warns government forces to repent "before we catch you." The video shows fighters killing four Nigerian soldiers by shelling another with a rocket-propelled grenade launcher.

Soldiers are forbidden to speak to the media and some unit commanders. no deaths were reported to keep their meager budgets low, soldiers and diplomats said.

But news is starting to leak through social media. Following an attack in November on a military base in Metel, landed on the Niger-Chad border, a five-minute video was distributed to soldiers showing the consequences. Above the images of smoldering tanks and armored vehicles, the narrator laments the quality of the military equipment on which the base was given.

"Look at the weapons they carry here. They don't work, "he says. "At least 100 plus soldiers have been killed here. Many are missing in action, they are nowhere to be found. "

Nigeria's troops initially refused to comment on the attack. Following questions from the Senate, the military said 23 soldiers had been killed. It says that the fake numbers of the victims and the sharing of inaccurate videos reinforce the "propaganda target of terrorists."

When Timothy Olanrewaju, a journalist based in Maiduguri, was unable to contact his brother, Sgt. For four months, Samuel Olanrewaju had repeatedly assured him that his brother was well located in a sensitive war zone.

Mr. Olanrewaju learned of his brother's fate when the Islamic State released a video showing his execution. A few hours later he was still in shock, lying on a mattress in his living room, struggling for words. "I couldn't believe my eyes," he said. "Why didn't they tell me the truth?"

The secret of the military for the victims is so widespread that it is unclear whether Nigeria's political leaders are aware of the state of the conflict.

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When President Buhari visited the Maiduguri base in November, commanders rushed to bury bodies gathered in the morgue from the recent assault on the base at Mettel and several others, according to several soldiers at the base. They moved bodies from the morgue into unmarked graves under cover of darkness.

"We could see the headlights and torches of the engineering department digging the graves," says a soldier.

While commanders were preparing the base for the president's arrival, they also recruited additional medical personnel to treat the dozens of wounded soldiers in the hospital's wards.

The president arrived with a large group of reporters reflecting on his re-election campaign.

As Mr. Buhari made an exciting statement to the soldiers, some tried to disturb him in order to register complaints about their conditions. Mr Buhari promised his audience "to do everything within my power to continue empowering you" and promised to improve the well-being of the soldiers. "Please keep your loyalty to the country," he said.

Write to Joe Parkinson at joe.parkinson@wsj.com

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