15 suspected jihadists killed in joint French-Niger op

File photo of French soldiers involved in the regional anti-insurgent Operation Barkhane in Gao, northern Mali. (AFP pic)

FRANCE: Some 15 suspected jihadists have been killed near the Niger-Mali border by a joint franco-nigerien task force, the French military high command said.

“On the night of Dec 27 (…) an air raid mounted by fighters and Tiger attack helicopters struck” jihadists gathered near Tongo Tongo, in southwestern Niger, the high command said in a tweet overnight Saturday to Sunday.

Tongo Tongo was the site of an ambush on Oct 4, 2017 where jihadists killed five Nigerien and four US special forces’ soldiers.

Nigerian and French soldiers, backed by helicopters, took control of several key positions in the area before mounting a 48-hour sweep.

Overall, about 15 jihadists were “put out of action”, a term generally used by the military to say they were killed.

During the sweep, “some 20 motorbikes were recovered, along with 26 weapons, including machine guns, and ammunition,” the high command said.

French Defence Minister Florence Parly praised the operation in a tweet as “an example of a successful joint operation in western Niger”.

“The strengthening of the G5 Sahel armies is continuing,” she added, referring to the regional force consisting of troops from Niger, Mali, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mauritania which has been set up to fight jihadists.

France, the former colonial ruler, has deployed a 4,500-member ‘Barkhane’ force in the region to conduct counter-terrorism operations.