At least 71 Nigerien soldiers have been killed in an attack on a military camp in the west of the country, according to the defence ministry.
In a televised statement, a ministry spokesman said “a substantial number of terrorists were neutralised” in Tuesday’s attack which also left 12 military personnel wounded and others missing.
President Mahamadou Issoufou cut short a trip to Egypt to return home following the “tragedy” that took place at the base in Inates, near the border with Mali, the presidency said on Twitter.
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There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, which is believed to be the deadliest against Niger‘s military in living memory.
Three Nigerien soldiers and 14 rebel fighters were killed on Monday in an attack on another army post in Agando in western Tahoua region, according to the defence ministry.
Tuesday’s attack came a few days before French President Emmanuel Macron scheduled a meeting next week, in the southwestern French town of Pau, with five presidents from the Sahel to discuss security in the region.
Niger is part of a five-nation task force known as the G5, set up in 2014 with Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania and Chad.
Niger’s council of ministers has extended for another three months a state of emergency in place since 2017 in several regions to fight against rebel attacks, handing additional powers to security forces.
Thousands of civilians and soldiers have died in violence across the vast Sahel region, which began when armed fighters revolted in northern Mali in 2012.
The conflict has since spread to the centre of Mali and to neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger. Attacks continue, despite the 4,500 French troops deployed in the region as part of Operation Barkhane to help local forces.
Thirteen French soldiers were killed in Mali last month when two helicopters collided during an operation against fighters in the country’s restive north, in the heaviest single loss for the French military in nearly four decades.