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Nearly 40 extremists killed in drone strikes in Niger

NIAMEY, NIGER (AP) – French drone strikes killed nearly 40 extremists earlier this week who were travelling on motorcycles near Niger’s border with Burkina Faso, France’s military announced on Thursday.

In a statement, the French military called the strikes a “new tactical success” for France’s counterterrorism efforts in Africa’s Sahel region, named Operation Barkhane.

“Intelligence obtained from Nigerien units in contact with the column confirmed that the motorcycles belonged to an armed terrorist group moving between Burkina Faso and Niger,” Barkhane said in the statement.

“In close coordination with Niger’s Armed Forces, the Barkhane force conducted several strikes against the column. Nearly 40 extremists were neutralised.”

Niger’s government also issued a statement, saying the extremists were killed after an attack earlier this week killed eight security forces in southwestern Niger.

The drone strikes in Niger come as France reorganises its military efforts in the broader Sahel region, the vast area south of the Sahara Desert where it was once a colonial power and still maintains strong economic ties. Niger has become a more reliable ally after military coups overthrew the democratically elected presidents of neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso over the last two years.

Earlier this year, France announced it was withdrawing its forces from Mali nine years after the French military led an effort that ousted extremists from Timbuktu and other centres in northern Mali. The decision to withdraw from Mali came amid increasing hostility toward the French armed presence and tensions with the country’s leader, who led two coups nine months apart to consolidate his power.

France said it planned to reposition its forces from Mali to other countries in the Sahel region including Niger. Extremist violence is growing in the Sahel, including in Niger’s southwest neighbour Burkina Faso, which is battling growing extremist attacks.

French soldiers loading a French Reaper drone with two GBU 12 missiles on Niamey airbase, Niger. PHOTO: AP