Seven soldiers were killed on Thursday in western Niger in an attack by suspected jihadists, and five others died in a traffic accident during an intervention in response to the attack, at a time when the country is seeking new military partners.
On Thursday, in the Tillabéri region (west), "an Almahaou (anti-jihadist) operation unit on a security mission in Kandadji was violently attacked by several hundred terrorists", announced Defense Minister and General Salifou Mody, appointed by the military regime that emerged from a coup, in a statement.
Seven soldiers died "in combat", he added. During the intervention" in response to this attack, "a tragic traffic accident resulted in the loss of five of our valiant soldiers", the statement said.
According to the document, seven people were injured and evacuated to hospital.
The attackers' motorcycles and weapons "were destroyed in the Tijiane area", 20 km northeast of Ayorou, in the same region, the minister said. "A combing operation is underway to track down the enemy", he added.
The ruling generals are the result of a coup d'état on July 26. They overthrew the elected president Mohamed Bazoum, justifying their action by the "deterioration of the security situation".
Niger, in its south-east, is confronted with jihadist violence from Boko Haram and its splinter group Iswap (Islamic State in West Africa).
In the west, where the Tillabéri region is located, the country is plagued by the same type of violence in the so-called "three borders" zone between Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali. It is a haven for Sahelian jihadists affiliated to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.
In mid-August, at least 17 Nigerien soldiers were killed and 20 wounded in an attack by suspected jihadists near the border between Niger and Burkina Faso. The attack was the deadliest since the coup.
According to the NGO Acled, the number of deaths in jihadist attacks in Niger have risen since the coup.
Niger's military regime has called for the departure of some 1,500 French soldiers present on its soil as part of the fight against jihadism, who are due to leave this Sahelian country by the end of the year, according to Emmanuel Macron.
The French president announced their departure last week, following a tug-of-war between Paris and Niamey. Their withdrawal "must be established within a negotiated framework", responded the Niger regime to this decision.
The French ambassador to Niger, Sylvain Itté, whose expulsion had been ordered by the military regime and initially refused by France, finally returned to Paris on Wednesday.
The United States, which has 1,100 troops in Niger, said it was evaluating its options regarding a possible withdrawal.
Niger's generals are therefore looking for allies, as are neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso, also led by soldiers who came to power in a coup. The three countries have created the Alliance of Sahel States (AES), a defense cooperation.