ISIS has claimed responsibility for one of the deadliest attacks on Niger’s military, which left 71 soldiers dead and 12 wounded.
The attack happened on Tuesday, when several hundred heavily armed militants ambushed soldiers at an outpost in Inates, in the west of the country near the Mali border, according to defense minister, Issoufou Katambe.
Fierce fighting followed and a “substantial number of the terrorists were neutralized,” Katambe said.
ISIS claimed on social media that it managed to seize the military base for several hours, and that it stole weapons and ammunition, including several tanks. The terrorist group did not provide any evidence to support its claim.
According to the presidency’s official Twitter handle, President Mahamadou Issoufou who was in Egypt at the time the “tragedy” took place had to cut off his trip to return home.
The attack came just days ahead of a summit in France between President Emmanuel Macron and leaders of five West African leaders to discuss the deteriorating security in the region.
That meeting has now been postponed to early 2020, according to a Reuters report.
Niger is a member of the G5 Sahel force of troops from Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Chad set up in 2014 to tackle insecurity.
The US and France have deployed soldiers to Niger to assist local troops with intelligence gathering and operations as it battles Boko Haram and al Qaeda militants in the region. Niger also shares a border with Mali, where an al Qaeda affiliate and other Islamist groups thrive in the vast desert.
The region has been beset by violence from suspected Islamist militant groups over in recent months. Thirteen French soldiers were killed in a crash involving two helicopters during an operation against jihadists fighters in Mali last month.
At least 53 soldiers died in a terror attack on a military camp in the country’s north-east in November.