Niger wants to double size of army to fight extremists

NIAMEY (AFP) – Niger’s army, locked in a battle with extremist groups in several regions, should double in size to “at least 50,000” soldiers in the next five years, Defence Minister Issoufou Katambe has told Parliament.

The impoverished country lies in the heart of the Sahel, a region plagued by overlapping extremist insurgencies that have spilt across borders over the past decade.

“An army must have at least 50,000 to 100,000 or 150,000 soldiers and we are at only 25,000, which is why the president of the republic has pledged that in the next five years we must increase this figure, we must have at least 50,000 in this army,” he told lawmakers.

He told reporters later that the decision was part of the long-term fight against terrorism and said “arrangements were being made to achieve this objective”.

Extremist fighters come into Niger in the west from Mali and Burkina Faso. In the southeast, Boko Haram and a splinter group called Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) launch attacks.

The Diffa region near the Nigerian border hosts roughly 300,000 people who have fled their homes, according to United Nations (UN) figures.

In late 2019 and early 2020, three extremist attacks killed 174 people, leaving the country in shock.

Niger’s military has received training and logistical support from the United States (US), France and Italy for its battles against insurgents.

Nigerian soldiers on patrol. PHOTO: GUARDIAN