On Friday, the French Defense Ministry released a statement saying that French forces in a joint military operation with Nigerien troops killed 120 terrorists and seized bomb-making equipment and vehicles in the Sahel.
Working along the violent tri-border area of Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso in the Tillaberi region of Niger, the forces “neutralized” the terrorists without any loss of their own in a stunning operation.
“Ten motorcycles and other equipment used for the production of improvised explosive devices and for observation” were seized and destroyed in the operation.
In a statement, Niger’s Defense Minister Issoufou Katambe praised the “cooperation with the strategic partner (France) in the fight against terrorism” alongside the Armed Forces of Niger (FAN). He added that the joint operation “is in line with the recommendations of the Pau Summit of January 13.” The Tillaberi region has been wracked with violence by jihadist groups and the government forces are stretched thin. In a series of attacks in December and January, 174 government troops were killed.
Now the government, with the help of the French, has struck back. Local authorities have been ramping up security measures by closing markets and banning motorcycle traffic, a commonly used vehicle by jihadist forces in the area.
Since 2015, Niger has struggled against a wave of jihadist attacks near the border with Mali. The violence has been intensely felt in both the Tillaberi and Tahoua regions, where about 78,000 people have been displaced as a result of the fighting.
Niger is one of the poorest countries in Africa and has been hit hard by the violence in the Sahel and elsewhere. It faces opposition on two fronts: In the southeast, Islamic State West Africa Province insurgents, based out of Nigeria, are active in the Diffa region around Lake Chad. In the western part of the country, jihadists from the Islamic State and affiliated al-Qaeda groups operate in the border region with Mali and Burkina Faso.
But the countries of the G5 are working together with France to combat these threats. In the recent Pau summit in France, Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Chad, and Mauritania pledged to work together to face terrorism in the sub-Saharan region. This strengthened Sahel coalition will increase coordination between the G5 troops and the French who lead the coalition.
France has 4,500 troops operating in the region and is injecting another 600 for the ongoing Operation Barkhane, according to Defense Minister Florence Parly. The Islamic State jihadists are the priority for France.
Improved cooperation is slowly building some momentum. The FCG5S (G5 Sahel Joint Force), commander, Niger Brigadier General Oumarou Namata said in a statement earlier this week that “exchanges of officers between [France and Niger] have been carried out and joint planning is already advanced.”
“Officers from the Burkinabé, Malian and Nigerien general staffs have also been associated to harmonize actions with the national forces involved,” Namata added.
The French are also organizing Special Operations Task Force “Takuba” that will train, advise, assist, and accompany local forces in their fight against Islamic State and al-Qaeda affiliates in the region. This Special Operations task force has already gotten pledges of involvement from Estonia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, the U.K., and Sweden. The Estonians have already pledged to double their commitment of force protection troops, while Denmark and the U.K. have agreed to supply helicopter support for the task force.
Troops should begin arriving this summer and should be fully operational by the fall. The French are also in negotiations with both Finland and Norway. The United States and Germany have declined to join the task force at this point.