Niger will launch a new military offensive against Islamist militants after an attack on an army base killed at least 25 soldiers, the defence minister said.
Last Thursday’s attack near the Malian border followed a raid by Islamic State insurgents on a military outpost last month that killed 71 soldiers. That was the deadliest strike against Nigerien forces for years and underscored deteriorating security conditions across West Africa’s Sahel region.
Despite the presence of French and American troops, attacks in Niger increased fourfold over the past year, killing nearly 400 people, according to data from the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, a non-profit research organisation.
“The strategy has to change,” Defence Minister Issoufou Katambe told Reuters. “We are not going to stay on the defensive. We will go on the offensive.”
Katambe did not provide details. Repeated Nigerien offensives against militants, often backed by soldiers from France’s 4 500-strong Sahel task force, failed to curb violence near the border with Mali.
Military campaigns by armies in the Sahel have been marred by human rights abuses, which analysts say pushed some civilians to the jihadists.
In addition to the Islamist attacks, countries in the region, especially Mali and Burkina Faso, struggle to cope with ethnic reprisals between rival farming and herding communities.
Mohamed Ibn Chambas, the UN secretary-general’s representative in West Africa, told the Security Council deaths from militant attacks in Niger, Mali and Burkina increased from about 770 in 2016 to over 4 000 in 2019.
“The region experienced a devastating surge in terrorist attacks against civilian and military targets,” Chambas said.
The regional G5 Sahel force, made up of soldiers from Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad, was launched in 2016 but struggled to co-ordinate against armed groups linked to Islamic State and al Qaeda who ghost over long, unpoliced borders.
No one claimed responsibility for Thursday’s attack in Chinagodrar north of Niamey.
The assailants approached the military post on motorcycles and other vehicles, government said. Sixty-three assailants died in the ensuing firefight, it said.