Islamic militants carried out another large assault on Niger’s military Thursday, leaving at least 25 soldiers dead along with dozens of jihadists only a month after the worst attack of its kind in years, the military said.
The latest violence blamed on extremists struck the town of Chinagodrar right on Niger’s troubled border with Mali. There was no immediate claim of responsibility but the attack bore the hallmarks of an Islamic State-linked group that said it was behind the December ambush near the town of Inates.
Thursday’s assault comes just days before French President Emmanuel Macron is due to meet in France with the president of Niger and other leaders from the Sahel region — a meeting that was pushed back a month ago after the unprecedented attack on Niger’s armed forces.
The leaders from France’s former colonies of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger are due to discuss the future role of the French military in the face of mounting jihadist attacks.
Niger’s defense ministry said late Thursday that 63 jihadists had been killed along with the 25 soldiers in the attack some 11 kilometers (7 miles) from the border with Mali.
On Wednesday, the U.N. envoy for West Africa and the Sahel spoke of “a devastating surge in terrorist attacks against civilian and military targets” in recent months.
Mohamed Ibn Chambas told the U.N. Security Council that terrorist attacks have increased five-fold in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger since 2016. There were more than 4,000 deaths reported in 2019 compared to an estimated 770 deaths in 2016, he said.
Military camps have increasingly been targeted by the jihadists, who have amassed more weapons and vehicles for their arsenal with each ambush. Mali’s military already has retreated from some of its most remote and vulnerable outposts following a surge in deadly attacks.