An Islamic State-linked group has claimed responsibility for a Jan. 9 attack on Niger’s military that left at least 89 Nigerian soldiers dead, according to a statement translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.
Islamic State’s West Africa Province (ISWAP), which is affiliated to ISIS, said its fighters were responsible for the attack on an army base in the town of Chinagodrar, near the Malian border and about 130 miles (209 kilometers) north of the capital Niamey.
After days of silence, it said in a statement its fighters killed 100 soldiers and wounded an unspecified number of others in the raid.
Government officials initially reported 25 soldiers dead and a further six others wounded, however the official death toll has since been raised to 89 soldiers dead, making it the most deadly attack of its kind in years in the region.
The attack coincides with a campaign by Islamist groups connected to al-Qaeda and ISIS terrorists forcing the Nigerian army back from its western frontier with Mali, where government control of the rural center and north has all but evaporated because of the rise of jihadists.
The United States aided Niger’s army and its other foreign allies in the killing of at least 77 extremists, the government said in a statement issued Sunday, Jan. 12. The military’s response, which included air support, pushed the extremists from Niger, the government said.
Three days of national mourning began on Monday.
The attack came after last month’s raid that killed 71 soldiers at another military outpost about 93 miles (150 kilometers) to the west of Chinagodrar, which was at the time believed to be the biggest attack on the Nigerian military.
The base was ambushed by around 100 extremists amid a surge of terrorist attacks in Niger, Burkina Faso, and Mali.
In response to the recent wave of attacks on Nigerian soldiers—which has left 174 security force members dead since December—Niger’s president President Mahamadou Issoufou fired the army’s chief of staff.
He said in a statement on Monday that Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Ahmed Mohamed will be replaced by Brig-Gen. Salifou Modi, who was the military attache for Niger in Germany. The Secretary General of the Ministry of National Defense and the Chief of Land Staff were also dismissed.
Security has deteriorated this year across the Sahel, a semi-arid strip of land beneath the Sahara, amid jihadist attacks and deadly ethnic reprisals between rival farming and herding communities.
The region has been in crisis since 2012, when ethnic Tuareg rebels and loosely aligned jihadists seized the northern two-thirds of Mali, forcing France to intervene the following year to beat them back. The jihadists have since regrouped and expanded their range of influence.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.