Security forces in Niger have arrested two suspected arms smugglers following a firefight 40 km (25 miles) southeast of the northern desert town of Arlit, state television said on Tuesday.
The region is considered a transit zone for smuggling, in part because of its close proximity to Libya.
The forces recovered three four-by-four vehicles carrying military weapons including rockets, grenades and more than 3,000 cartridges as well as three sets of military fatigues following the overnight clash that began late Sunday.
The occupants of two of the vehicles fled on foot, while another escaped by turning off its headlights and driving away. It is being pursued, the report said.
French troops are operating in Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad – countries straddling the arid Sahel – in an effort to quash Islamist fighters in the region.
The French operation, dubbed “Barkhane” after the name of a kind of sand dune formed by desert winds, has set up its headquarters in the Chadian capital N’Djamena.
On April 15, soldiers from Operation Barkhane and Niger’s defence forces arrested three people suspected of trafficking arms and drugs and helping militants in the Arlit area close to the Algerian border.