NIAMEY (AFP) – Hundreds of extremists attacked a Niger military camp near the border with Mali with shelling and mortars, killing 71 soldiers, the Defence Ministry said on Wednesday.
Tuesday’s attack in Inates in the western Tillaberi region was the deadliest on Niger’s military since the country’s extremist militant violence began in 2015.
“Sadly, we regret to announce the following toll: 71 military personnel killed, 12 injured. Others missing,” the Defence 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 neutralised”.
The fighting lasted three hours, combining artillery fire with “the use of kamikaze vehicles by the enemy”.
An earlier toll from a security source put the number killed in the assault at more than 60.
“The terrorists bombarded the camp with shelling and mortars,” that source said. “The explosions from ammunition and fuel were the cause of the heavy toll.”
The source did not say which group was responsible for the deadly assault.
Niger forces are fighting against Boko Haram militants on the southeast border with Nigeria and extremists allied with the Islamic State (IS) in the west near Mali and Libya.
Niger President Issoufou Mahamadou cut short a visit to a peace and security conference in Egypt to return to Niamey, the presidency said on Twitter.