The government of Niger declared three days of mourning after 89 soldiers were killed in an attack by suspected terrorists on a base located in the country’s west, a spokesman said.
Nigerian President Mahamadou Issoufou also announced he has replaced the head of the country’s army, Ahmed Mohamed, who led the military for two years, Reuters reported on Monday. Major General Salifou Modi was appointed Mohamed’s successor on the same day.
The government initially said that 25 people died in the attack. Days later, the government said the death toll was revised to 89, The Associated Press reported.
“The government calls on the population to be more vigilant, more serene and united, and reaffirms its determination to continue the fight against terrorism until the final victory,” a government statement said.
According to CNN, three days of mourning were announced by a government spokesman. Days before, Issoufou wrote that “on behalf of the people of Niger, I offer my deepest condolences to the families of the victims and wish the injured a speedy recovery.” He also wrote to “salute the courage and bravery” of the military forces who lost their lives and repelled the attack in Chinagodrar.
Troops in Niger and Mali are fighting to suppress an insurgency. Both countries have been assaulted by Islamic extremists in recent months, resulting in hundreds of deaths.
Mohamed Ibn Chambas, the special representative and head of the United Nations Office for West Africa, told the body’s Security Council last week that attacks in the region have increased at a rapid pace in recent years.
He said more than 4,000 deaths were reported last year. But in 2016, only 770 deaths were recorded in the same area, which encompasses Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso, Fox News reported.
“Most significantly, the geographic focus of terrorist attacks has shifted eastwards from Mali to Burkina Faso and is increasingly threatening West African coastal states,” Chambas said at the U.N. Security Council meeting.
French President Emmanuel Macron is expected to meet with President Issoufou and other West African leaders in the coming days, Fox News reported.
The latest attack comes about a month after around 70 soldiers were killed in Niger near the Mali border in an assault blamed on Islamic terrorists.
In early December, the president of Burkina Faso also said that more than a dozen people were killed during a suspected terrorist attack on a Protestant church in Hantoukoura, located in the east of the West African country.
Since July, hundreds of people have fled the area for Niger’s capital, Niamey, or other nearby towns, the sources said, leaving their cattle and houses untended and unguarded.
The region has been in crisis since 2012, when ethnic Tuareg rebels and loosely-aligned Islamic jihadists seized the northern two-thirds of Mali, forcing France to intervene the following year to beat them back.
Reuters contributed to this report.