A major gunbattle broke out Friday along the coast of Lake Chad, in northeastern Nigeria, where troops clashed with Boko Haram fighters into Sunday, forcing civilians to flee into the surrounding brushlands.
The fighting centered on the fishing village of Baga, and many civilians were unable to get out when the fighting began, effectively trapped as both sides used heavy weaponry in densely populated areas. Over 185 people are believed to be killed, many of them civilian bystanders.
The Nigerian military did not dispute the death toll, or that a large number of those killed in the military’s offensive were civilians, rather insisting that Boko Haram was using them as “human shields” when the troops sprayed machine gun fire into residential neighborhoods.
Civilians in northeastern Nigeria already aren’t particularly keen on the military, after a November incident in which troops attacked the city of Maiduguri, the capital of the same province as Baga, and massacred a number of civilians they accused of supporting Boko Haram.
At the time the military insisted that the deaths “didn’t happen,” despite local officials noting huge numbers of corpses in the streets after military raids. With Boko Haram increasingly influential in the province, the military apparently no longer feels the need to even put up the pretense of not killing civilian bystanders, and the province is effectively under intermittent siege.