Ten troops have been killed on Niger’s border with Nigeria in a joint operation by the two countries against “bandits,” Nigerien Defense Minister Kalla Moutari said on Monday, December 31.
“Five Nigerien and five Nigerian” troops and 11 enemy were killed in the operation, launched against armed gangs in the Maradi region on Sunday, he said.
“The Nigerian defence and security forces are identifying the bodies of the bandits,” Moutari also said, according to a TV report from Maradi, where he went to attend the funeral of the dead Nigerien troops.
Officials often call Islamist militants “bandits” but a security source said the joint operation targeted criminal gangs that plague the Niger-Nigeria border, holing up in dense forests.
The fighting “began on Saturday in the middle of the morning,” the source said, adding that several troops from both countries were also wounded.
In October, at least 30 “bandits” were killed during a military crackdown by Niger and Nigeria between the Maradi area of southern Niger and the border with Nigeria, where kidnappings and cattle rustling are rife, Niger’s interior minister Bazoum Mohamed said at the time.
Twelve bases in Nigeria were also dismantled during that three-week operation by the two armies, and it meant authorities were “fully in control” of the region and troops were “in the middle of mopping-up operations,” he had maintained.
In August, Niger’s government had announced it was sending security reinforcements to the Maradi area on the southern-central part of the border, which abuts the northwestern Nigerian state of Zamfara.
Farming and cattle herding communities in Zamfara have for years been targeted by gangs of cattle thieves and kidnappers who raid villages, steal cows and abduct locals for ransom.
As a hideout, the gangs use the Ruggu forest which straddles Zamfara, Katsina and Kaduna states.
The attacks have prompted villagers to form militia groups for protection but they, too, have been accused of taking the law into their own hands and killing suspected bandits.
Those killings attract reprisals from motorcycle-riding criminal gangs, who carry out indiscriminate killings and arson in retaliation.
With reporting from AFP