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Five questions to understand the situation in Niger targeted by terrorist attacks

Since the start of 2021, Niger has experienced a significant deterioration in its security. This landlocked Sahel country which shares its border with Mali has been plagued by jihadist attacks since 2015, particularly in the west. The Nigerien army seems incapable of defending civilians. The latest assaults are the deadliest of their kind.

1What happened ?

In less than a week, two major attacks struck western Niger, killing over 200 people, including around 20 children, and injuring many among the civilian population. Armed men on motorcycles attacked villages and nomadic camps, shooting “on everything that moves“, according to a local elected representative of the region quoted by AFP. The multiple attacks took place near Tillabéri, in the area known as the Three Borders (Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso).

Since the start of the year, at least 300 people have been killed in this region, where numerous armed groups are rampant.

2Who is leading the attacks?

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Attacks against civilians have not been claimed, but several armed groups are active in the area of Tillabéri. It is “bandits”, according to the Nigerien authorities, affiliated with the Islamist organizations Islamic State and Al-Qaeda. In this region of the Sahel, their names have changed. We are talking about the organization Islamic State in the Great Sahara (EIGS) and Al-Qaeda in the support group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM, or Jnim in Arabic). The two rival terrorist nebulae are well established in the Sahel and recruit locally.

3Where does the terrorist threat come from?

If the Sahel is familiar with political instability, the security situation has deteriorated in recent years with the crisis in Mali. In a region with porous borders, insecurity in a country is often a threat to its neighbors. After their eviction from northern Mali in 2012, the armed groups were greatly weakened but were not eradicated.

These armed movements, which are financed through multiple trafficking, have spread across the immense Sahel (an area as vast as Europe), establishing themselves locally with devastating effect. Not a day goes by without an attack on military and civilian targets in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso. 2020 was the deadliest year in the Sahel, according to the NGO Acled, which specializes in data collection.

4 Can Niger defend itself?

Niger faces a huge challenge in the anti-jihadist struggle. The power now led by President Mohamed Bazoum sent reinforcements to the targeted region, but this did not protect the population. Under-equipped and not sufficiently trained, the Nigerien army, which has nearly 25 000 soldiers is unable to cope with the recurrent attacks in the west and south-east of the country. Niger has pledged to double its troops, but in the meantime it is counting on the military support of the Chadian army, the most seasoned in the region within the framework of the G5-Sahel. The country also benefits from the support of the French anti-jihadist operation Barkhane which has more than 5 000 men deployed in the desert region.

5What is Niger’s approach?

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Niger wants to strengthen its military resources to fight the jihadists, but “all-security” is not enough, as many observers point out. Niamey values ​​dialogue with the local communities targeted. The latest attack in particular targeted the Tuaregs to undermine social cohesion. This community turn worries civil society, as Amadou Oumarou Mamar, coordinator of a collective in the Tillabéri region where the latest attacks took place, told AFP. To avoid the conflagration, Niger is trying to reassure communities about the presence of the State and its armed forces accused of abuses during anti-terrorist operations.

The newly elected president, Mohamed Bazoum, has pledged to fight corruption and pursue a social policy in favor of the development of the country, one of the poorest in the world.

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