Jihadists killed 71 soldiers in a terrorist attack on a remote military camp in Niger close to the border with Mali, an army spokesman confirmed on Wednesday, in what was the deadliest attack on the military in the country’s history.
In an announcement on state television, army spokesman Colonel Boubacar Hassan confirmed that several hundred jihadists launched the attack on Tuesday evening over a period of around three hours at the army base in the western town of Inates.
“The combat (was) of rare violence, combining artillery shells and the use of kamikaze vehicles by the enemy,” he said.
Hassan added that a further 12 soldiers were wounded and an unspecified number of others were missing, while a “significant number” of militants were also killed. Anonymous sources told local media that 30 soldiers are still unaccounted for.
No organization has yet come forward to claim the killings, although it is suspected that terrorists from al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group (IS) were behind it, given how they have already carried out multiple attacks against troops in the Sahel region this year.
Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou arrived back in the country on Wednesday evening after cutting short a visit to Egypt, his office announced on Twitter.
Le Président de la République, Chef suprême des armées, SEM @IssoufouMhm a interrompu sa participation à la Conférence sur « la Paix Durable, la Sécurité et le Développement en #Afrique » qui se tient en #Égypte pour rentrer à #Niamey suite au drame survenu à #Inates.
— Présidence du Niger (@PresidenceNiger) December 11, 2019
The attack came just days before Issoufou planned to attend a summit in France with President Emmanuel Macron and the leaders of five other West African countries to discuss the deteriorating security in the region. The meeting has now been postponed until early next year.
All five countries, namely Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Chad, are part of the G5 Sahel force of troops, set up in 2014 to reduce instability and violence across the region.
Both the United States and France have deployed troops to Niger to help the local military with intelligence sharing and carrying out operations as they attempt to eradicate Islamist groups such as Boko Haram and al-Qaeda from the region.
Thousands of people have died in recent years as a result of violence across the vast Sahel region since 2012 when militant groups revolted in northern Mali following the overthrow of Libyan dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi.
The violence has since spread across Mali and to neighboring Niger and Burkina, with dozens of similar attacks despite the presence of U.S. and French forces.
Late last month, 13 French soldiers were killed in Mali following a collision between two helicopters during a military operation, in what was later confirmed to be the heaviest single loss for the French military in 40 years.