Our military source said the insurgents fired on and hit the plane as it carried out surveillance operations over Sambisa Forest, a well-known hiding place for Islamist terrorists, Boko Haram.
Our source disclosed that five foreign soldiers were killed when the plane went down after it was hit by insurgent anti-aircraft fire. The source said he was not able to confirm the nationality of other casualties, but added that many of those engaged in the operations were from Ukraine. He added that a Nigerian pilot on board was critically injured.
Since February, the Nigerian military has been carrying out offensive operations against Boko Haram insurgents holed up in the Sambisa Forest.
SaharaReporters contacted the Ukrainian Embassy in Abuja about the reported death of mercenaries from their country. But an official at the embassy said he could not confirm any report and directed our correspondent to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kiev, Ukraine.
The Nigerian military also appeared reluctant to the downing of the military aircraft. When SaharaReporters approached the spokesperson to the Nigerian Air Force, Comodore Alonge, he told our reporter he was not aware of the crash. Also, the spokesperson to the Nigerian Army, Colonel S.K Usman told SaharaReporters he will respond to our inquiry but he is yet to return our call and several text messages on the matter 48 hours after we contacted him.
Two other officials at the Army headquarters in Abuja declined to discuss the development. One officer, who asked not to be named, said the newly appointed Chief of Army Staff, Major-General Tukur Yusufu Buratai, was in Damaturu, capital of Yobe State, to celebrate Eid-Fitr with Nigerian troops. General Buratai was seen praying with civilians shortly after two suicide bombers killed at least 50 people in Damaturu.
Our security source disclosed that the Nigerian military maintains an air unit composed of mercenaries, adding that the force was distinct from the Nigerian Air Force, to the point that the two are often in conflict over air operations in Nigeria’s terror-plagued northeast zone.
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