At least 20 soldiers and a civilian were killed in an attack by armed groups in western Niger, the Ministry of Defence has said.

The ministry announced three days of national mourning starting on Wednesday, following the previous day’s ambush of security forces near the village of Tassia in the Tillaberi region, which left nine others wounded.

The attack, close to the border with Burkina Faso, was carried out by a coalition of armed groups, the ministry said in a statement read out on state television, without naming any group.

Soldiers had killed dozens of fighters while defending themselves, it said. Aerial and ground reinforcements were being deployed to track down the rest of the attackers.

Niger’s military government came to power last year in a military coup, overthrowing the democratically elected government.

It has expelled French and United States from the country, with the latter ordered to leave by September 15, turning to Russian mercenaries as it struggles to quell the armed rebellion.

Multiple armed rebellions

Niger is one of several West African countries battling multiple armed rebellions that have spread outwards from Mali over the past 12 years, killing thousands and uprooting millions of people.

Frustrations over the authorities’ failure to protect civilians have spurred military coups in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger since 2020.

Tassia lies in the Tillaberi region bordering Mali and Burkina Faso, where rebels linked to al-Qaeda and ISIL (ISIS) groups have run rampant for almost a decade.

In March, at least 23 Nigerien soldiers were killed in another attack in Tillaberi, which was claimed by ISIL.

Last week, the rebel Patriotic Liberation Front attacked a China-backed pipeline, threatening more attacks if a $400m deal with China was not canceled.

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