At least 71 soldiers have been killed on Wednesday when hundreds of jihadists attacked a Niger military camp near the border with Mali killing according to the defence Ministry.
Niger is part of anti-jihadist task force known as the G5 which was set up in 2014 comprising Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania and Chad. The attack is believed to be the deadliest against Niger’s military in this year.
President Mahamadou Issoufou cut short a trip to Egypt to return home following the “tragedy” that took place near the border with Mali, the presidency said on Twitter.
The 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’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.
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