The Nigerian Air Force (NAF), yesterday, maintained that the military airstrike conducted on January 24, in Nasarawa State, targeted and killed only terrorists and not innocent civilians and herders as claimed in some quarters.
The NAF said the air strike was carried out after a series of intelligence and surveillance conducted in the general area revealed the presence of a large number of terrorists with motorbikes and a truck believed to be carrying logistics.
The terrorists said to be in their hundreds were planning to carry out a massive attack on the area and kidnap innocent children from a school in one of the towns.
NAF Director, Public Relations and Information, Air Commodore Ayodele Famuyiwa, made the disclosure while fielding questions from journalists on update of the Nasarawa air strike, at the bi-weekly media briefing of the Defence Media Operations, in Abuja.
Famuyiwa, while calling on journalists to carry out proper investigations before going to press, condemned the report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), which alleged that NAF targeted herders who were evacuating their cattle in Kawatiri, a border community between Benue and Nasarawa.
In its report on June 7, HRW said, “Nigerian authorities have provided little information and no justice” with regard to the airstrike. “Although the authorities admitted carrying out the raid, the organisation said they evaded “key questions” concerning the circumstances surrounding the attack.
The NAF spokesman, who challenged the organisation to produce evidence to prove the allegation that those killed in the airstrike were actually herders and not terrorists, said there had been Intel from several reliable sources of the activities of terrorists in that particular area before the air strike.
He said: “You are all aware of the nefarious activities of criminal elements in that part of the country. We are also aware that there is an ongoing operation, that is, Operation Whirl Stroke and the Intel came from several sources and even to the commander of that operation for the air component that there was a plan by terrorists within that area to carry out a massive attack.
“And then, there was a secondary school in question that they also planned to kidnap students from. To that extent, the air force carried out surveillance and the surveillance confirmed that there were terrorists and that surveillance continued for almost throughout the day until later in the evening when a truck appeared in that scene.
“The truck was suspected to have brought logistics to them and that was why approval was given by the appropriate authority that that truck be taken out, and the truck was taken out. Now, if anyone is coming around to say innocent people were killed, where is the photograph of the truck that brought the cattle that they are talking about?,” he asked.
He went on: “The position of the air force is that terrorists were struck that day, and whether it is whatever group and if they think they were innocent people, let them provide the evidence.
“If you think the military is going to give you the evidence of those operations, for now, you won’t get it because there is information that cannot be declassified now. Let the people who said innocent citizens were killed provide the evidence, and let the press do the analysis and then the truth will come up.”