More than 70 soldiers feared killed in ambush in Niger

According to our sources, more than 70 Nigerien soldiers have been killed and dozens missing after the massive attack on the afternoon of Tuesday, December 10, 2019 by unidentified assailants at the advanced military post of Inatès (Tillaberi region).

The strike in In-Atès near the border with Mali on Tuesday night emphasises the growing insecurity in a wide belt of poor and anarchic territory in west Africa and, if the death toll is confirmed, is the deadliest on Niger’s forces in recent memory.

It came just days before a summit in France where President Emmanuel Macron is expected to meet regional leaders to discuss the future of the French military’s deployment in the Sahel, which stretches across Africa, south of the Sahara.  The Nigerien military has not released casualty figures, but a senior official who spoke on condition of anonymity confirmed the provisional toll to reporters.

Local media reported that the attackers, who have not yet been identified, first targeted communications equipment at the remote base before over-running its defences.  A tweet sent from the account of the president, Mahamadou Issoufou, late on Wednesday said that he was returning early from an overseas trip in Egypt following the reported attack.

The violence was only 30 miles (48km) from Ouallam, where four US service members died along with four Nigerien soldiers two years ago when their joint patrol came under fire in a massive ambush.

Islamic extremists with links to both Islamic State and al-Qaida have long carried out attacks across the vast desert region. The French military mission and a regional Sahel force have failed to stem the violence. This year has also seen extremist groups increase their presence in neighbouring Burkina Faso.

In 2015, 46 soldiers and 28 civilians were killed in an attack by Boko Haram, the Islamist extremist group, on a military post on Lake Chad.  Last month, gunmen in Burkina Faso killed nearly 40 civilians in an ambush on a convoy transporting workers for a Canadian goldmining company.

Two hundred and fifty British troops are scheduled to be deployed in a UN peacekeeping mission in neighbouring Mali in 2020.  Weapons have flooded the region in recent years, many of which were brought from Libya into Mali after the death of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, enabling various groups to pursue different agendas.

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.