Niger attack shows jihadist threat more lethal than ever

Grappling with an elusive, fast-moving enemy, French strategy is shifting to a response that combines speed, stealth and advanced weapons.

Sunday 15/12/2019

TUNIS- A massive attack on an army base in the sub-Saharan African country of Niger showed how difficult the fight against jihadism in the Sahel region has become.

The assault December 10 at Inates, in Niger’s remote region of Tillaberi, was carried out by “many hundreds” of heavily armed jihadists, the Niger Defence Ministry said. At least 71 people were killed, 12 injured and “others” were missing, the ministry said.

Responsibility for the attack, the bloodiest in Niger since 2015, was claimed by the Islamic State (ISIS).

After the attack, French President Emmanuel Macron postponed a summit, set for December 16, that was to include five Sahel heads of state.

In the last four months, more than 230 soldiers in Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso have lost their lives, in addition to 13 French troops killed in a helicopter crash while chasing jihadists in northern Mali.

That is in addition to the thousands of civilians who have died and more than 1 million people displaced since the jihadist revolt began in Mali in 2012.

Analysts noted an escalation in the jihadists’ operational tactics, which seem to have become bolder and more complex in recent months. Instead of hit-and-run raids by a small group of Kalashnikov-armed guerrillas, the jihadists are carrying out operations that involve hundreds of fighters, armed with mortars and explosives-laden vehicles.

Ranged against them are the impoverished armies of Chad, Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, plus the 4,500-troop French force in the Sahel and the 13,000-strong UN force in Mali.

Grappling with an elusive, fast-moving enemy, French strategy is shifting to a response that combines speed, stealth and advanced weapons. French armed forces said they will arm drones, enabling them to strike ground targets.

France was expected to press other EU members during a meeting to build support for the fight against jihadism in the Sahel.

The G5 Sahel force, which France is backing in the hope that it will help it draw down its troops in the region, is struggling with funding problems, shoddy or outmoded equipment and poor training.

Paris is also setting up an operation called Tacouba, which would involve special forces from several European countries, to help the Malian Army. Eight countries responded positively, the French presidential palace said.

Mali was destabilised in 2011 by Tuareg fighters from Libya after the fall of the Muammar Qaddafi regime.

Besides Libya, which is prey to Islamic extremists, Tunisia and Algeria face intermittent jihadist attacks by groups affiliated with al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.

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