Islamist militants killed 71 soldiers in an attack on a remote military camp in Niger near the Mali border, an army spokesman said, in the deadliest raid against the Nigerien military in living memory.
Jihadists with links to Islamic State and al Qaeda mount increasingly lethal attacks across West Africa’s Sahel despite the commitment of thousands of regional and foreign troops to counter them.
The violence hit Mali and Burkina Faso the hardest, rendering large swathes of those countries ungovernable and spilled into Niger, which shares long and porous borders with its two neighbours.
Several hundred militants attacked a base in the western Niger town Inates over a period of three hours on Tuesday, army spokesman Colonel Boubacar Hassan said on state television.
It was the same area where Islamic State’s West African branch killed 50 Nigerien soldiers in two attacks in May and July.
“The combat was of a rare violence, combining artillery shells and kamikaze vehicles,” he said.
He added 12 soldiers were wounded and an unspecified number missing, while a “significant number” of militants were killed.
Two security sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said 30 soldiers were missing.
President Mahamadou Issoufou arrived in Niger on Wednesday after cutting short a visit to Egypt, his office said in a tweet.
The attack comes at the end of a year of intense violence in Inates, a cattle herding community near the Niger River north of Niamey.