At least ten soldiers died in an ambush by a group of “armed terrorists” in southwestern Niger, close to the Mali border, the defence ministry said Saturday.
The toll from Friday’s attack could rise as 16 people are still missing and 13 soldiers were wounded, a ministry statement said.
The troops were on patrol in the north of Banibangou department when they “came under a complex ambush by a group of armed terrorists” it said, referring to jihadist groups.
The statement also said several attackers were killed during the fighting, but did not specify how many.
The attack took place in Niger’s vast western region of Tillaberi, which straddles Burkina Faso and Mali — two countries hit by jihadist insurgency — and has faced repeated attack since 2017 by armed groups linked to Al-Qaeda and Islamic State.
The region neighbours the Tahoua area, where heavily armed attackers stormed a camp housing refugees from neighbouring Mali last week.
Nine people were killed in that assault, which a local official said was carried out by “heavily armed terrorists” on motorcycles who fled back into Mali.
All the countries involved are former French colonies.
On Saturday, the French foreign ministry “condemned the attack in the strongest terms”, expressing its “full solidarity with the authorities and people of Niger”, adding it stands by their side “in the fight against terrorism”.
Over 61,000 Malian refugees shelter in Tahoua and Tillaberi, according to the United Nations.
After the departure of French soldiers from Mali last year and a scheduled pullout shortly from Burkina Faso, France will field only 3,000 troops in the restive Sahel region — in Niger and Chad — where jihadist groups roam.