Suspected Islamic militants attacked a Nigerien military base in a two-pronged assault on Thursday that left at least 25 soldiers dead. Government forces killed 63 jihadists and destroyed several motorcycles.
The attack took place in the town of Chinagodrar, which sits seven miles from Niger’s border with Mali.
Although no one has taken responsibility for this latest attack in the region, the Nigerien authorities believe that it is the work of the same Islamic State jihadist group that attacked Inates, about 112 miles west, where 71 Niger soldiers were killed in a December attack.
The attack in Niger’s Tillaberi region came from two directions at approximately12:00 p.m. local time. The jihadists rode heavily armed vehicles that came from west of Chinagodrar, while “several dozen motorcycles” came from the Ikrafane forest east of the base.
The Nigerien Defense Ministry said that “the response with the combined air support of the Niger air force and partners made it possible to carry out strikes and rout the enemy outside our borders.” They added that government forces were conducting clearing operations and pushing the jihadists back.
Radio France International (RFI) filed a report stating that a combination of French and American airstrikes helped turn the tide. According to the report, French Mirage 2000 jets were over the target area in 15 minutes while U.S drones hit the vehicular convoy with one strike and the motorcycle convoy with another. However, AFRICOM has reported that the United States conducted no airstrikes in either Niger or Mali.
As part of the counter-terrorist Operation Barkhane in the Sahel, the French operate three armed Reaper drones as well as four Mirage 2000-D fighter jets in Niamey, the capital of Niger which is almost 140 miles away. The United States also has an airbase (101) in Niamey and another (Nigerien AB 201) in Agadez. The CIA operates its own airbase for drones.
Back in November, French President Emmanuel Macron said that France was “confirming and consolidating its commitment” to the G5 Sahel region that consists of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania, Niger, and Mali. Macron’s plan is to revamp the G5 Sahel Joint Force (FCG5S) as well as beef up its Special Operations component.
Macron and the leaders of the G5 Sahel group are planning to meet this weekend to discuss security and the presence of French-led forces in the region. The meeting was originally planned for December but was postponed until January 12 due to the Inates attack that killed 79 soldiers.
Nusrat al-Islam, officially known as Jama’a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin’ (JNIM) has been responsible for the majority of the attacks in the Sahel. After its leaders swore allegiance to Ayman al-Zawahiri, this has been al-Qaeda’s official branch in Mali.
Many of the attacks in the Sahel have also been attributed to the Islamic State. Niger’s Lake Chad, located in the Diffa region, has been hit by Nigeria-based Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) insurgents, while militants loyal to al-Qaeda and based in Mali operate in the region’s west.
The confused and complex fighting began in 2012 when insurgents in northern Mali took over vast swaths of territory in the country. The French leaped to their former colony’s aid and deployed troops in support of Mali in 2013. The French drove the insurgents from the towns and put the government back in nominal control.
However, in 2014, the insurgents morphed into several smaller groups and regrouped. Their violence spread into southern Mali and across the borders to Niger and Burkina Faso. Much of Mali’s southern area remains out of government control.
The French began Operation Barkhane in 2014, sending 4,500 troops to support the G5. The majority of the troops, 2,700, are in Mali.
The French are hoping to create a coalition force of international Special Operations Forces, dubbed Takuba (meaning saber in Taureg) and have it deployed to Mali in 2020.