NIAMEY, July 2 (Reuters) – Unidentified gunmen have killed 16 soldiers in an attack on a military camp in western Niger, local residents and security sources said on Tuesday.
The raid occurred on Monday afternoon near the town of Inates, close to the border with Mali, where Islamist militants are active, and in the same region where an ambush by Islamic State’s West African branch killed 28 soldiers in May.
Niger hosts the African Union summit from July 6-9 less than 200 km (125 miles) away in the capital Niamey. In the run-up, the European Union has been training Nigerien forces to respond to militant attacks.
Zakari Insa, the brother of one of the soldiers killed in Monday’s attack, and Souley Marou, a local villager, both said 16 soldiers had died.
Two security sources confirmed the death toll, and one of them said about a dozen vehicles had been stolen. Jihadists have previously launched attacks using vehicles stolen in previous raids.
An army spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.
Security has deteriorated in recent months across West Africa’s Sahel region, a semi-arid strip of land south of the Sahara. France and the United States have deployed thousands of troops to the region to counter jihadist groups linked to Islamic State and al Qaeda.
The attacks have also helped to stoke ethnic violence between rival farming and herding communities, particularly in Mali and Burkina Faso.
Militants loyal to Adnan Abu Waleed al-Sahrawi, the leader of Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, operate along Mali’s border with Burkina Faso and Niger.
In 2017, they killed four members of U.S. special forces and four Nigerien soldiers in an ambush near the village of Tongo Tongo.
Reporting By Boureima Balima and Moussa Aksar in Niamey and
David Lewis in Nairobi; Writing by Aaron Ross; Editing by Kevin