The airstrikes, which a top army general attributed to operational error, marked the first public knowledge about the army’s use of unmanned bombers outside the Nigerian Air Force.


DECEMBER 4, 2023

The Nigerian Army on Monday accepted responsibility for a series of bombings that pummelled villages in Kaduna, leaving scores of civilians dead as part of a protracted operation targeting armed bandits along the country’s northwestern flank.

Many residents of Tundun Biri village in the Igabi Local Government Area were killed in the air raids, with several others injured on Sunday night in what an army chief told state officials was an error.

At least 126 civilians were killed in the attack, Peoples Gazette heard from an army colonel involved in the aftermath containment efforts. The Nigerian Army has not officially disclosed fatality figures, and the state government was reluctant to publicly demand accountability or criticise the military for the tragedy.

“The last information we received gave us 126 bodies. Our men are still searching all the locations to possibly recover more,” the army officer said under anonymity to comment on the ongoing investigation over the incident.

State government spokesman Samuel Aruwan said Valentine Okoro, a major-general leading the Nigerian Army 1 Division headquartered in Kaduna, had admitted at a meeting that the drone operators mistook the villagers for bandits, who have been terrorising the region.

Those bombed had gathered for the Maulud celebration at about 9:00 p.m. Sunday, during which the army said terrorists were also suspected to be moving across the borders between Zamfara and Kaduna.

Mr Aruwan said a meeting was presided over by the deputy governor, Hadiza Balarabe, and had heads of security agencies, religious and traditional leaders, and the Nigerian Army in attendance.

Mr Aruwan said Mr Okoro “explained that the Nigerian Army was on a routine mission against terrorists but inadvertently affected members of the community.

“The deputy governor, at the end of the closed-door meeting, conveyed the condolences of the government and people of Kaduna State to the families that lost their loved ones and prayed for the repose of the victims’ souls,” he added.

“As of the time of this update, search-and-rescue efforts are still ongoing, as dozens of injured victims have been evacuated to Barau Dikko Teaching Hospital by the government,” Mr Aruwa stated.

The state commissioner said the heads of security agencies who attended the meeting included the police commissioner, Musa Yusuf Garba, and the State Security Service (SSS) director in the state, Abdul Eneche.

“The chairman of the Kaduna State chapter of Jam’atu Nasril Islam (JNI), Professor Shafi’u Abdullahi, led other religious leaders.

“Also present at the meeting was the District of Rigasa, Alhaji Aminu Idris, in whose domain the incident occurred,“ Mr Aruwan said.

The airstrikes marked the first public knowledge about the army’s use of unmanned bombers outside the Nigerian Air Force, which had long been associated with repeated bombings of civilians, all of which were promptly attributed to operational mistakes. It was not immediately clear how long the Nigerian Army has been using drones without the knowledge of the Nigerian Air Force, which said it did not conduct any operation in the affected area over the past 24 hours.

“The NAF has not carried out any air operations within Kaduna State and environs in the last 24 hours,” Air Force spokesman Edward Gabkwet said in a statement to The Gazette. “Also, note that the NAF is not the only organisation operating combat armed drones in the North-Western region of Nigeria.”

In 2021, Peoples Gazette reported that the Nigerian Air Force Alpha jet, in an ariel attack on armed bandits in Niger State, mistakenly killed wedding guests. A similar bombing claimed over 100 civilians in January 2023.

Before then, the Nigerian Air Force, in an airstrike, killed some Nigerian soldiers, mistaking them for insurgents. A soldier in a video published by The Gazette was seen reporting the incident and called for help.

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