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Assault on Nigerien military base underscores growing severity of Islamic State threat in Sahel

The Nigerien military announced on 11 December that 71 soldiers had been killed and 12 others wounded during a complex assault by Islamist militants on a remote military camp in the rural commune of Inates in the country’s western Tillaberi region, close to the border with Mali, the previous day.

Military spokesperson Colonel Boubacar Hassan reported that several hundred militants had been involved in the assault, which he said lasted approximately three hours. His statement corroborated local media reports, which claimed that the militants had initially attacked the base with multiple suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (SVBIEDs) and mortar fire, before gunmen on motorcycles and pickup trucks closed in from different directions and engaged the remainder of the garrison, approximately 30 of whom remained missing at the time of writing.

The attack was subsequently claimed by the Islamic State’s West African affiliate, Wilayat Gharb Afriqiyya – which encapsulates the group’s activities in West Africa and the Sahel – in a 12 December statement in which the group also claimed that the attack had “resulted in the destruction of at least 100 soldiers and wounded dozens [of] others”. The statement further claimed that the group’s fighters had looted weapons, ammunition, and 16 vehicles before withdrawing, although unusually the statement was not accompanied by photographs of the purported haul.

Sahel violence

The assault, described in media reports as the deadliest attack on the Nigerien military in living memory, was not the first time that pro-Islamic State militants had targeted the Inates base, which is used to provide pre-deployment training to Nigerien soldiers serving with the UN MINUSMA peacekeeping mission in Mali.

Nigerien military personnel walk past the corpses of soldiers killed in a 10 December 2019 attack on a military base in western Niger. (Boureima Hama/AFP via Getty Images )

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