…Niger sacks army chief after deadliest attacks in years***
Niger on Monday began three days of national mourning after suspected terrorists killed 89 people in an attack on a military camp near the border to Mali.
The defence ministry had initially placed the number of dead soldiers at 31 after the attack on an army post in the town of Chinagodrar in western Niger on Thursday night, but government raised the death toll to 89 late on Sunday.
Seventy-seven militants were killed during the attack, bringing the total number of deaths to 166, the government said in a statement.
Terrorist groups are especially active in Niger’s west, not far from the borders with Mali and Burkina Faso. Some of them are loyal to al-Qaeda, while others are tied to Islamic State.
In December, Islamic State militants claimed responsibility for an attack on a military camp in Inates, a village in western Niger that left 71 military personnel dead.
In the meantime, Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou has replaced the head of the army after two
of the country’s deadliest attacks in living memory killed at least 160 soldiers, the government said.
This had prompted a rethink in the battle against militants groups, the official added.
Ahmed Mohamed led the army for over two years, a period marked by a steep rise in attacks by militants linked to Islamic State and al Qaeda.
This had culminated in a daytime raid on a remote army base on Thursday that killed at least 89 soldiers.
That attack came less than a month after another on an outpost that killed 71 soldiers and raised questions about Niger’s ability to contain the spread of militant groups across its western border from Mali and Burkina Faso.
Maj.-Gen. Salifou Modi was appointed Mohamed’s successor on Monday, the government announced after a cabinet meeting.
Niger said it would launch a new military offensive against militants, but past campaigns have failed to curb violence in spite of the presence of French and American troops.
Attacks in Niger have raised fourfold over the past year, killing more than 400 people, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, a non-profit research organisation.
Military campaigns by armies in the Sahel, a semi-arid swathe of land beneath the Sahara, have also been marred by human rights abuses, which analysts say have pushed some civilians into the arms of the militants.
In addition to the militants attacks, countries in the region, especially Mali and Burkina Faso, have struggled to cope with deadly ethnic clashes between rival farming and herding communities.