Niger said it had killed 33 Boko Haram “terrorists” and seized vehicles and weapons in an operation in the Lake Chad region.
“Offensive actions carried out on Tuesday inflicted heavy losses on the enemy,” a defense ministry statement read on state television said on Wednesday, March 13.
“Thirty-three terrorists [were] killed” while there were no losses on the army’s side, it said.
A vehicle up-armored to be used as a suicide vehicle bomb was destroyed, while two other vehicles, two motorcycles, a 120-mm mortar, 10 AK-47 assault rifles, two 60mm shells and 3,736 rounds of all calibers were seized, it said.
The operation began on Saturday, it said – a day after seven police and 38 militants were killed near Gueskerou in the southeastern region of Diffa, according to a government toll.
Diffa borders Nigeria’s Borno state, birthplace of Boko Haram, and has suffered a string of cross-border raids and population displacement.
Update, March 13: Nigeria’s Air Force said on Wednesday that NAF Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) platforms and Alpha Jet attack aircraft in coordination with Niger’s Air Force ISR and attack aircraft supported ground troops from the Multinational Joint Task Force “to pursue and decimate” Islamic State West Africa province militants on the fringes of Lake Chad.
The strikes resulted in the “killing of 33 fighters, destruction of some terrorists’ equipment as well as the recovery of an array of weapons and equipment,” the NAF said.
Boko Haram split into two factions in mid-2016. One, led by Abubakar Shekau, is notorious for suicide bombings and indiscriminate killings of civilians.
Shekau pledged allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, but ISIS central only gives formal backing to the other faction, which is known as Islamic State West Africa province.
The MNJTF, which comprises troops from Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria, is currently conducting Operation Yancin Tafki against Boko Haram around Lake Chad, including in Niger. The MNJTF said on Tuesday that over the past four weeks around 70 vehicles, mostly technicals, have been destroyed.
On February 15, seven Nigerien soldiers were killed in an attack on Chetima Wangou, also in the Diffa region. Islamic State claimed ISWA fighters attacked the military base.
A local official said Boko Haram militants on February 1 shot dead six people in Bague Djaradi, a village in Toumour commune.
Boko Haram was blamed for the January 28 killing of four people in Bosso, around 20 km (12 miles) east of Toumour.
In early January, a Nigerien army ground and air military offensive in the area against the armed group killed nearly 300 Boko Haram militants, according to the defense ministry.
In November, around a dozen girls were taken in raids on several border villages, while seven local employees of a French drilling firm and a government official were killed after suspected Boko Haram gunmen stormed their compound.
The United States recently handed over a communications and operations center to the Niger army to help in the battle against Boko Haram.
The planning and operations control center is designed to help Niger forces synchronize its operations through improved communications.
Boko Haram’s bloody insurgency began in northeastern Nigeria in 2009 but has since spread into neighboring Niger, Chad and Cameroon, prompting a regional military response. Some 27,000 people have been killed and two million others displaced, sparking a dire humanitarian crisis in the region.
This story was updated on March 13 at 1731 with information from the Nigerian Air Force.
With reporting from AFP