Airforce Bombing Mishap: Second Fatal Military Error In Two Weeks

Victims of bombing on a displaced camp in Rann, Nigeria
Victims of bombing on a displaced camp in Rann, Nigeria. Pix: Alfred Davies, MSF

By Dayo Aiyetan

The bombing of the Internally Displaced Persons, IDP, camp in Rann, Borno State on Tuesday was the second such error in less than two weeks by the military resulting in casualties, the icirnigeria.org can authoritatively report.

A military fighter jet dropped bombs on the IDP camp in Rann, in Kala-balge Local Government Area where thousands of displaced persons are housed, killing at least 50 persons and leaving about 200 others injured.

Spokesman of the Nigerian Defence Headquarters, Rabe Abubakar, said the bombing was an error and that it occurred after troops received intelligence of movement by Boko Haram insurgents in the area.

However, a reliable military source told the icirnigeria.org that there had been an earlier incident in another IDP camp in Gamboru Ngala, where more than 30 IDPs were also mistakenly killed by Nigerian troops.

It was learnt that troops who had left their base in Marte, in Borno state on patrol and clearance mission mistakenly killed the displaced persons at a location close to the IDP camp in Gamboru Ngala where they were resident.

According to the source, the troops had left Marte for clearance and patrol operations without telling their colleagues stationed at the IDP camp in Gamboru Ngala. This particular IDP camp is in the control of Nigerian military whose soldiers provide security there due to Boko Haram activity in the area.

However, soldiers at the Gamboru Ngala camp had authorised the displaced persons to go into the nearby bush to get firewood with which to prepare their meals.

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It was gathered that the IDPs usually get raw food from the authorities and have to cook their food themselves.

Each IDP, it was learnt, was given a tally by the soldiers so that they would be easily identified when they returned to the camp.

However, as they were foraging in the bush for firewood not too far from the camp, the soldiers from Marte happened upon them and, suspecting that they were Boko Haram insurgents, opened fire on the hapless IDPs, reportedly killing more than 30 of them.

The IDPs were said to comprise men, women and children and they had gone looking for firewood not only to cook but also to sell in the IDP camp.

Upon hearing gunshots, the soldiers at the IDP camp in Gamboru Ngala are said to have traced the source and discovered that their colleagues had killed the IDPs.

It was gathered that two of the IDPs survived the attack and recounted what happened. The two, who sustained gunshot injuries, said that they pretended to be dead and only stood up when the soldiers from Gamboru Ngala arrived at the scene of the incident.

The soldiers were angry at their colleagues and questioned how the incident could have occurred as it was still daylight when the troops should have seen clearly that the people in the bush were not insurgents.

The military has not made public anything about the Gamboru Ngala incident and it is not known if any action has been taken about it.

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The icirnigeria.org could not get the military to react to or confirm our findings, as the spokesperson of the army, Sani Usman, was unreachable by phone. He also did not respond to enquiries sent by WhatsApp as at the time of filing this report

An injured child after the Rann attack
An injured child after the Rann attack Pix: Alfred Davies, MSF

Meanwhile, the accidental bombing of the Rann IDP camp continues to send shocking waves across the world, including the humanitarian community in Borno State and Nigeria in general.

The International Committee of the Red Cross, ICRC, said that six of its workers were killed and 13 injured in the incident.

According to the ICRC’s Field communications officer, Umar Sadiq, the affected workers “were part of a team bringing desperately needed food for over 25 000 displaced persons in Rann.”

Medicins Sans Frontieres, MSF, said no member of its staff was affected but it added that “three employees of a Cameroonian firm who was hired by MSF to provide water and sanitation services in the camp lost their lives in the attack.”

A statement by MSF’s Programme Manager in Nigeria, Hugues Robert, said that its team was vaccinating children measles and screening them for malnutrition when the bombs landed on the camp.

A field coordinator for MSF, Alfred Davis, who was in the Rann camp when it was attacked, provided a gripping eyewitness account of what happened to Time.com in an article published on Wednesday.

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Davies said that many of the IDPs were probably saved because at the time the bombing occurred, many of them had left the centre of the camp to queue for mats, blankets and other essentials being distributed by MSF.

Davies said that the air force aircraft dropped bombs twice on the camp in what the military said was an error.

“The first bomb fell at 12:30 p.m. and landed just a few meters away from the Red Cross office. The plane circled back around, and it dropped a second bomb five minutes later. I immediately called the rest of the team on the radio, and they reassured me that luckily none of them had been injured,” Davies recounted.

“There are no words to describe the chaos. Some people had broken bones and torn flesh; their intestines hung down to the floor. I saw the bodies of children that had been cut in two,” he continued.

Davies disclosed that the MSF only succeeded in gaining access to the Rann IDP cam on January 14, just a few days before the bombing, after trying for months, adding that the displaced persons they met were in desperate condition.

“We found that the people living in Rann had nothing. The week before we got there, it was reported that 21 people had died of causes linked to malnutrition. The reason we were in Rann was very clear – we were there to evaluate people’s nutritional status and assess their needs, including if they had access to enough safe water.”