Niamey – An attack by hundreds of Boko Haram fighters on a town in Niger’s jihadist-plagued southeast killed 16 soldiers and wounded nine others, Defence Minister Alkassoum Indatou said on Wednesday.
In the assault late on Tuesday “the positions of our defence and security forces in Baroua, in the Diffa region, were attacked by several hundred Boko Haram elements who came from Lake Chad”, the minister said in a statement.
Nigerien soldiers “neutralised around 50 terrorists” and “secured a large quantity of arms and ammunition”, he added.
The attack came only two months after around 6 000 people returned to the Baroua area in June after fleeing jihadist attacks in 2015, under a programme to encourage around 26 000 inhabitants in the region to go back to their homes.
Authorities had said that 19 villages like Baroua where more than 26 000 had returned recently were under “reinforced” protection – although Diffa governor Issa Lemine also hailed the “positive development of the security situation” as he welcomed returnees.
Those who fled had been living in safer villages, UN camps or with relatives elsewhere in the region.
Around 300 000 displaced people from Niger or neighbouring Nigeria have found shelter in the Diffa region from jihadist groups like Boko Haram and the Islamic State group affiliate ISWAP, according to the UN.
Earlier this month, Niger said it would build an airbase there to step up its anti-jihadist fight.
But it must also contend with jihadists who commit regular bloody attacks in the wider Sahel region stretching across the southern fringes of the Sahara, including the IS affiliate ISGS.
On August 16 at least 37 civilians including women and children were killed in an attack on a village by attackers who arrived on motorbikes.
Two weeks before, 15 soldiers were killed in an ambush.
The world’s poorest country by the benchmark of the UN’s Human Development Index (HDI), Niger is facing jihadist attacks on two borders.
The southeast of the country near the marshy Lake Chad region is being hit by jihadists from Nigeria’s Boko Haram and its splinter group, the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP).
The Diffa region hosts around 300 000 Nigerian refugees and locally-displaced Nigeriens.
Western Niger, meanwhile, is battling bloody cross-border raids from insurgents in neighbouring Mali, who include followers of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS).
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