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French air power repelled Niger base attackers: Army source

AFP , Friday 10 Jan 2020
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French military air strikes played a "decisive" role in repulsing jihadists who raided a military camp in Niger on Thursday killing 25 soldiers, a Nigerien security source told AFP.

Sixty-three "terrorists" died during the attack on the camp in the western region of Chinegodar near the restive border with Mali, according to the Niger government.

"All 25 deaths in the attack are of soldiers who were deployed to Chinegodar," the military source told AFP on Friday.

"Our soldiers fought bravely against terrorists who thought they would take them by surprise as in previous attacks," the source said.

Earlier, the Niger government had said 63 "terrorists" and 25 others had perished, without immediately specifying if they were soldiers.

"Air intervention by our allies, especially the French, played a decisive role," the source said. "The heavily-armed terrorists arrived in large numbers by motorbike and in cars."

Six soldiers were injured, the Niger defence ministry had earlier said, and also acknowledged that air strikes by "our partners" along with the Nigerien air force helped "push the enemy out of our borders."

France, Niger's former colonial ruler, has fighter jets and drones stationed in Niamey, the capital of the West African country, as part of Operation Barkhane aimed at fighting jihadists in the western Sahel.

US drones also survey the sprawling arid region round-the-clock. The US has flown drones from Niamey, which is in the southwest, but last year completed construction of a special base at Agadez, in the centre of the country.

Defence Minister Issoufou Katambe had visited the Chinegodar camp last week in a morale-boosting exercise.

Thursday's attack was the first on Chinegodar, a village located about 10 kilometres (six miles) from the Mali border.

On December 10, 71 Nigerien soldiers died in an attack claimed by the Islamic State on Inates, located in the same area and near the border with Burkina Faso.

On December 25, 14 soldiers were killed in another raid, once again in the region of Tillaberi.

The Inates attack was the deadliest on Niger's military since Islamist extremist violence began to spill over from neighbouring Mali in 2015.

Militant violence has spread across the vast Sahel region, especially in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, having started when armed Islamists revolted in northern Mali in 2012.

Thousands of civilians have also died and more than a million have been forced to flee their homes since the jihadist revolt began.

Apart from the French force in the Sahel, there is a 13,000-man UN force in Mali, known by its French acronym MINUSMA.

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