Niger army spokesman says jihadist attack kills 71 soldiers

Niger army soldiers stand guard next to a Niger's Air Force Mi-35P attack helicopter on the tarmac in Diffa southeastern Niger

At least 70 soldiers were killed in the attack on a military camp in Niger in the western Tillaberi region near the Mali border, AFP has reported, citing security sources.

The political fallout from the attack - the bloodiest in Niger since 2015, when the insurgency began to spill over from neighbouring Mali - was immediate.

The violence prompted President Mahamadou Issoufou to cut short a trip to Egypt.

Security analysts who are following the report of the attack say that the insurgency in Niger is escalating at an alarming rate.

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".

Two of the sources said another 30 soldiers had been wounded. However, no terrorist organization has yet claimed responsibility for the attack.

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Islamist terrorist groups are especially active in Niger's west, not far from the borders with Mali and Burkina Faso.

A terror attack in Niger Republic has led to the death of 67 soldiers, Nigeria's president, Muhammadu Buhari, has said.

Jihadis with links to the "Islamic State" and al Qaeda have stepped up attacks on army outposts in West Africa's Sahel region this year, despite the deployment of a regional military force and thousands of French troops.

The region has been in crisis since 2012, when ethnic Tuareg rebels and loosely-aligned jihadists seized the northern two-thirds of Mali, forcing France to intervene the following year to beat them back.

Instead of hit-and-run raids by a small group of Kalashnikov-armed guerrillas, the jihadists are now carrying out operations that involve hundreds of fighters, armed with mortars and suicide vehicles.

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