71 Niger soldiers killed by extremists

BBC: “Militants have killed at least 71 soldiers in an attack on a military base in western Niger – the deadliest in several years.”

It is not known who did it the BBC notes “militants linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group (IS) have staged attacks in the Sahel region this year despite the presence of thousands of regional and foreign troops.”

US special forces were killed in Niger in 2017 in Tongo Tongo.

Crises Group writes “On 10 December, assailants struck a Nigerien military camp close to the settlement of Inates on the border with Mali, killing more than 70 soldiers in the deadliest attack on security forces in the country’s history. The Islamic State’s affiliate in Mali and Niger claimed responsibility for the attack. Its fighters reportedly used mortars and kamikaze vehicles to storm the base. In its statement, the Islamic State said it had captured weapons, ammunition, vehicles and even ‘a number of tanks.'”

Most of the reporting falsely locates Inates inland, while the reports themselves say it happened on the border with Mali. This is because two villages have similar names of Inates and Inatess. Reporting indicates the areas is near the border and 30 miles from Tongo Tongo.

The killing of 71 soldiers in Niger, which had been spared the surge in major militant attacks that have destabilized Mali and Burkina Faso, shows that Islamic State is expanding at breakneck speed across West Africa. The raid on the Inates base, less than 200 kilometers (124 miles) from the capital, Niamey, is the deadliest-ever on Niger’s army and follows a spate of attacks on military outposts in neighboring Mali that left more than 100 troops dead last month. It also came days before leaders of five West African nations were due to convene in France on Dec. 16 to discuss security and the French military deployment in the region as anti-French sentiment escalates. French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday postponed the summit to January because of the attack,” writes Bloomberg

In a later statement, Colonel Boubacar Hassan, a spokesperson for Niger’s Ministry of National Defense, said that 71 soldiers were killed, 12 were wounded and a number were missing, adding that “a substantial number of terrorists were neutralised.” However some soldiers are unaccounted for as sources told Reuters. Defense Post notes that “Hassan said that the attack began at around1500 Wednesday and continued until 1815 and was carried out by ‘heavily armed terrorists estimated to number many hundreds’ who used artillery fire and ‘kamikaze vehicles.'”

CBS: quotes the goverment: “Sadly, we regret to announce the following toll: 71 military personnel killed, 12 injured. Others missing,” the defense ministry said in a statement aired on national television. “The attack was carried out by “heavily armed terrorists estimated to number many hundreds,” the statement said, adding that ‘a substantial number of terrorists were neutralized.’ The SITE intelligence group, which monitors jihadist media, said fighters who have sworn allegiance to ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack.”

CBS also notes that“The group, known as ISIS in West Africa or ISWAP, is a Boko Haram splinter faction. It has about 3,000 men grouped in the Lake Chad region where northern Cameroon converges with Nigeria, Niger and Chad. CBS News correspondent Debora Patta said it was the deadliest attack on Niger’s defense forces in memory. The fighting lasted three hours, during which time the militants hit the base with shelling, mortars and suicide vehicle bombs.”

Both Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou and French President Emmanuel Macron have postponed events due to the emergency.  Issoufou cut off a trip to Egypt and Macron decided against a trip to southwest France. Now the terrorist force has gone back into Mali and a coordinated Sahel effort will be needed to stop them.

I saw Issoufou speak at the Rhodes Forum earlier this year and he stressed the importance of security in the region. This will be a major challenge and could be a harbinger of worse to come.

France has led Operation Serval in 2013 inn Mali and Operation Barkhane in August 2014 against Islamist extremists.

France has postponed the G5 due to this attack, even though the meeting was to deal with the Sahel.France 24:“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.”

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G5 countries and recent US airstrikes and the Inates attack (Seth j. Frantzman)

In November the US announced a new base in Niger. VOA reported on November 1, 2019, “The new U.S.-constructed air base in Agadez, Niger, is now fully operational, carrying out its first unmanned intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance flights this week, U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) told VOA Friday.” TheUS hasa growing role in Africa and Africom has expanded. This includes thousands of soldiers and assisting local forces. But commanders want to reduce the footprint by hundreds since 2018. The US has key installations from Djibouti to Niger. The October 2017attack led to revelations that US has up to 1,000 troops in the Niger region.

On Tuesday in Somalia al-Shabab attacked a luxury hotel for hours. The US has carried out numerous drone strikes in southern Libya in recent months. TheUS also killed a senior Al-Shabab member in mid-November. The US expanded UAV operations in Somalia since 2016 from a handful of strikes a year to dozens.

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