NIAMEY, Niger (AP) — Suspected Islamic militants ambushed a military post in western Niger and killed at least 70 soldiers, a presidential adviser said late Wednesday, marking the deadliest attack on the West African country’s forces in recent memory.
The violence comes just days ahead of a summit in France where French President Emmanuel Macron is expected to meet with West African leaders to discuss the future of the French military's role in the Sahel region.
A tweet sent from President Mahamadou Issoufou's account late Wednesday said that he was returning early from an overseas trip in Egypt following the developments near Niger's border with Mali.
The military has not released a death toll, but an adviser who spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to journalists confirmed the provisional toll.
The large attack took place overnight in a remote area of Niger where jihadists linked to the Islamic State have long been active, the adviser said.
The violence was only 30 miles (45 kilometers) from Ouallam, where four U.S. service members died along with four Nigerien soldiers two years ago when their joint patrol came under fire in a massive ambush.
Islamic extremists with links to both the Islamic State and al-Qaida have long carried out attacks across the vast desert region. A French military mission and a regional Sahel force have failed to stem the violence. This year has also seen extremist groups increase their presence in neighboring Burkina Faso.
Associated Press writer Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal, contributed to this report.