Unidentified gunmen killed 16 soldiers in an attack on a military camp in western Niger, local residents and security sources said.
The raid happened on Monday near Inates, close to the Mali border, where Islamist militants are active and in the same region where an ambush by Islamic State’s West African branch killed 28 soldiers in May.
Niger hosts the African Union summit from July 6-9 less than 200 km away in Niamey. In the run-up, the European Union has been training Nigerien forces to respond to militant attacks.
Zakari Insa, brother of a soldier killed in Monday’s attack and Souley Marou, a local villager, said 16 soldiers died.
Two security sources confirmed the death toll with one saying a dozen vehicles were stolen. Jihadists previously launched attacks using vehicles stolen in raids.
An army spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.
Security has deteriorated in recent months across West Africa’s Sahel region. France and the United States deployed thousands of troops to the region to counter jihadist groups linked to Islamic State and al Qaeda.
The attacks have stoked ethnic violence between rival farming and herding communities, particularly in Mali and Burkina Faso.
Militants loyal to Adnan Abu Waleed al-Sahrawi, leader of Islamic State in Greater Sahara, operate along Mali’s border with Burkina Faso and Niger.
In 2017, they killed four members of US Special Forces and four Nigerien soldiers in an ambush near Tongo Tongo.