The attack was the deadliest on Niger’s armed forces in years, and took place in a remote area where jihadists linked to the Islamic State have been active.
About 100 Islamic militants ambushed an army camp in western Niger and killed at least 71 soldiers, a military spokesman said late Wednesday, in the deadliest attack on the West African country’s forces in years.
The attack comes amid a surge of assaults on army camps in the Sahel region, which have allowed jihadists to amass weapons and vehicles for their arsenal. Mali, a neighboring West African country, has seen such an increase in ambushes on its army that it has closed some of its most remote and vulnerable army outposts.
Col. Boukar Hassan, a spokesman for Niger’s army, read the death toll announcement on state television Wednesday night and said a dozen other people had been wounded after the ambush overnight.
Earlier in the evening, a tweet sent from the account of President Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger announced that he was returning early from an overseas trip in Egypt, following developments near Niger’s border with Mali.
Mr. Issoufou was among the leaders invited to a summit meeting next week in France to discuss the future of a French military mission in the region.
The large attack took place in a remote area of Niger where jihadists linked to the Islamic State have long been active.
The violence took place 30 miles from Ouallam, where four United States service members died along with four Nigerien soldiers two years ago when their joint patrol came under fire in an ambush.
Islamic extremists have long carried out attacks across the vast desert region, abducting foreigners and targeting spots popular with expatriates. A regional military force and the French military mission have failed to stem the violence.
Some analysts have suggested that the deadly ambushes on army outposts are aimed not only at stealing weapons, but also at expanding the area of land under jihadists’ control.
Unrest over the ambushes has mounted, particularly in Mali, where soldiers’ widows have held a number of demonstrations calling on the government to do more. Some have aimed their anger at France, the former colonial ruler in the region whose military intervened in 2013 to force jihadists from power in major towns across northern Mali.
France’s operation in West and Central Africa involves 4,500 personnel, making it the country’s largest overseas military mission. France intervened in Mali in 2013 after extremists seized control of major towns in the north and implemented a harsh version of Islamic law.
President Emmanuel Macron of France has said he expects West African leaders to make it clear at next week’s summit meeting that they want and need France’s military help, despite the anti-French sentiment expressed by some protesters.