Air Strike Kills Eight Iraq Paramilitaries In East Syria

 

An airstrike in eastern Syria killed eight fighters of Iraq’s Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary force overnight, a war monitor said on Friday.

“Unidentified aircraft targeted vehicles and arms depots in the Albu Kamal area, causing a large explosion. At least eight Iraqi Hashed fighters were killed,” the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdel Rahman, said.

He said several others were wounded.

Through a spokesman contacted by AFP, the US-led military coalition operating in Syria and Iraq denied carrying out the strike.

Abdel Rahman said three villages in the Albu Kamal area known for housing forces loyal to Tehran have been targeted by drone strikes since Wednesday, causing no casualties.

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The deadly strike comes in a context of spiralling tension between the United States and Iran, much of which has played out in Iraq.

Late last year, a US air strike in Iraq killed 25 Hashed fighters from the Kataeb Hezbollah militia, considered one of the closest to Tehran.

Hashed supporters subsequently stormed the huge US embassy compound in central Baghdad, further escalating the situation.

On January 3, a US strike near Baghdad airport killed Qasem Soleimani, Iran’s feared external operations supremo, in one of the Middle East’s highest-profile assassinations of recent years.

Also killed in the strike was Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a founder of Kataeb Hezbollah and seen as Iran’s man in Iraq.

Tehran has vowed bloody revenge and has so far responded with ballistic missiles on a base in western Iraq housing US and other coalition troops.

Iran claimed the strikes killed 80 people but neither the US nor the Iraqi military reported any casualties.

Nearly Nine Years Of Conflict In Syria

Iraqi protesters set ablaze a sentry box in front of the US embassy building in the capital Baghdad to protest against the weekend’s air strikes by US planes on several bases belonging to the Hezbollah brigades near Al-Qaim, an Iraqi district bordering Syria, on December 31, 2019. Ahmad AL-RUBAYE / AFP

 

 

Syria’s war began as a peaceful uprising that was swiftly crushed in a regime crackdown. Almost nine years on, more than 380,000 people have died, and millions more have fled.

After Russian President Vladimir Putin — a key ally of Damascus — on Tuesday made a surprise visit to the country, here is a summary of the main events in the conflict:

Revolt to repression

In March 2011, protests break out to demand political change after four decades of repressive rule by the Assad dynasty.

President Bashar al-Assad’s regime cracks down on demonstrations but rallies continue.

In July an army colonel who has defected from the military sets up the Turkey-based opposition Free Syrian Army (FSA).

An armed rebellion erupts, with support from western and Arab countries. The rebels seize key territory, including large swathes of third city Homs and a chunk of the ancient city of Aleppo.

Air strikes

In 2012 regime forces step up their crackdown, carrying out bloody operations, notably in the central city of Hama, a bastion of opposition to the Assad regime.

In July FSA fighters launch a battle for Damascus but the government holds firm.

From 2013 regime helicopters and planes unleash air strikes, some of them using barrel bombs, on rebel zones.

The same year Iran-backed Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah confirms it has deployed fighters to back Syrian government forces.

Iran also boosts its support for Assad.

Chemical attack

On August 21, 2013, chemical attacks blamed on the regime on two rebel-held areas near Damascus reportedly kill more than 1,400 people. The regime denies the charge.

Then US president Barack Obama pulls back from threatened punitive strikes on Syrian regime infrastructure, instead of agreeing a deal with Moscow that is meant to dismantle Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal.

Islamic State group

In June 2014, the jihadist Islamic State group proclaims a “caliphate” over territory it has seized in Syria and Iraq.

In September a US-led coalition launches airstrikes against IS in Syria.

The strikes benefit Kurdish groups, who since 2013 have run autonomous administrations in Kurdish-majority areas.

Kurds join with Arabs to form the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

They oust IS from key areas including the jihadists’ de facto capital Raqa in 2017, and then in 2019 their last Syrian holdout, the village of Baghuz.

In October IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is killed during a US special services operation in northwestern Syria.

Russia steps in

In September 2015 Russia launches airstrikes in support of Assad’s troops, in a campaign that will prove to be a turning point in the war.

In a string of deadly campaigns, the regime retakes key rebel bastions, from Aleppo in 2016 to Eastern Ghouta in 2018.

US strikes

In April 2017 a sarin gas attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhun kills more than 80 people.

US President Donald Trump unleashes missile strikes against the regime’s Shayrat airbase.

In April 2018, the US, with the support of France and Britain, launches retaliatory strikes after an alleged regime chemical attack on the then rebel-held town of Douma, near Damascus.

Turkish offensive against Kurds

On October 9, 2019, Ankara launches an offensive targeting Kurdish forces in Syria, whom it brands “terrorists” linked to Kurdish insurgents in Turkey.

It follows Washington’s decision to withdraw US forces from the Turkey-Syria border area.

Turkey and its Syrian proxies have since taken a 120-kilometre by 30-kilometre stretch of the border.

Battle for Idlib

Since mid-December, the Syrian regime and its ally Russia have ramped up their bombardments of Idlib province in the northwest, involving ground battles with jihadists and rebels.

Damascus vows to reconquer the region, run by the powerful Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) jihadist alliance, led by Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate.

Regime Air Strikes Kill Nine In Northwest Syria

 

 

Syrian regime air strikes killed nine civilians in the embattled opposition stronghold of Idlib on Sunday, a war monitor said.

Jihadist-dominated Idlib has come under mounting bombardment in recent weeks, displacing tens of thousands of people in the northwestern region home to some three million.

The regime air raids in the town of Ariha also wounded more than 19 people, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on sources inside the war-torn country.

An AFP correspondent saw a large patch of blood on the road at the site, near a gutted building and the torched remains of two cars.

The remains of the victims lay by the side of the road in plastic body bags.

The Damascus government has repeatedly vowed to retake Idlib, which is run by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a group dominated by Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate.

A ceasefire announced in late August was supposed to stop Russia-backed regime bombardment of the region after strikes killed some 1,000 civilians in four months.

But the Observatory says sporadic bombardment and clashes continued, before intensifying in the past month.

On January 1, missiles fired by regime forces killed nine civilians including five children in a school turned shelter in the town of Sarmeen.

Syria’s war has killed more than 380,000 people including over 115,000 civilians since it started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.

In total 11,215 people including more than 1,000 children were reported killed last year, although it was the least deadly year on record since the beginning of the conflict.

Seven Children Among 14 Killed In Roadside Bomb In Burkina Faso

 

 

Seven children and four women were among 14 civilians, killed when a roadside bomb blew up their bus in northwestern Burkina Faso, the government said.

“The provisional toll is 14 dead,” a statement said, adding that 19 more people were hurt, three of them seriously in Saturday’s blast.

The explosion happened in Sourou province near the Mali border as students returned to school after the Christmas holidays, a security source said.

“The vehicle hit a homemade bomb on the Toeni-Tougan road,” the source told AFP.

“The government strongly condemns this cowardly and barbaric act,” the statement said.

No one claimed responsibility for the attack but jihadist violence in Burkina Faso has been blamed on combatants linked to both Al-Qaeda and Islamic State groups.

Meanwhile, the army reported an assault against gendarmes at Inata in the north on Friday, saying “a dozen terrorists were neutralised”.

The deaths came the week after 35 people, most of them women, died in an attack on the northern city of Arbinda and seven Burkinabe troops were killed in a raid on their army base nearby.

Burkina Faso, bordering Mali and Niger, has seen frequent jihadist attacks which have left hundreds of people dead since the start of 2015 when Islamist extremist violence began to spread across the Sahel region.

In a televised address on Tuesday President Roch Marc Christian Kabore insisted that “victory” against “terrorism” was assured.

The entire Sahel region is fighting a jihadist insurgency with help from Western countries but has not managed to stem the bloodshed.

Five Sahel states — Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Chad — have joined forces to combat terrorism in the fragile region that lies between the Sahara and the Atlantic.

Increasingly deadly Islamist attacks in Burkina have killed more than 750 people since 2015, according to an AFP count, and forced 560,000 people from their homes, UN figures show.

Syria Regime Fire Kills Eight In School Turned Shelter

 

 

Land-to-land missiles fired by Syrian regime forces killed eight civilians including four children in a school in northwestern Syria on Wednesday, a war monitor said.

Part of the building in the town of Sarmeen had been turned into a shelter for the displaced, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

In the latest round of violence in Syria’s nearly nine-year-old war, regime forces have upped their deadly bombardment of the northwestern opposition bastion of Idlib in recent weeks.

In December alone, the violence pushed some 284,000 from their homes in the jihadist-run region of some three million people, the United Nations says.

The mass movement of people has seen public buildings such as mosques, garages, wedding halls and schools turned into shelters, UN humanitarian agency OCHA says.

Regime ally Russia announced a ceasefire for Idlib in late August after months of deadly Russian and regime bombardment that killed around 1,000 civilians.

But sporadic clashes and bombardment persisted throughout the autumn before a spike in violence in the past month, the Observatory says.

Syria’s civil war has killed more than 370,000 people since it started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.

In total 11,215 people including more than 1,000 children were killed during the war last year, although it was the least deadly year on record since the beginning of the conflict.

US Strikes On Pro-Iran Group In Iraq Kill 25, Sparking Anger

In this file photo taken on May 31, 2019 Iraqi Shiite fighters from the Iran-backed armed group, Hezbollah brigades, burn a US and Israeli flags during a military parade marking Al-Quds (Jerusalem) International Day in Baghdad. The US bombed the headquarters of the group in Iraq and Syria, the Pentagon said today, after a series of attacks in Iraq again.

 

 

US air strikes against a pro-Iran group in Iraq killed at least 25 fighters, a paramilitary umbrella said Monday, triggering anger in a country caught up in mounting tensions between Tehran and Washington.

Sunday night’s attacks saw US planes hit several bases belonging to the Hezbollah brigades, one of the most radical factions of Hashed al-Shaabi, a Tehran-backed Iraqi paramilitary coalition.

The strikes “killed 25 and wounded 51, including commanders and fighters, and the toll could yet rise,” said the Hashed, which holds major sway in Iraq.

Victims were still being pulled from the rubble of bases near Al-Qaim, an Iraqi district bordering Syria, on Monday, it said.

Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said the US had “shown its firm support for terrorism and its neglect for the independence and sovereignty of countries” by carrying out the attacks.

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Washington, itself a key ally of Baghdad, must accept the consequences of its “illegal act”, he added.

US Defence Secretary Mark Esper described the attacks — which hit three locations in Iraq and two in neighbouring Syria — as “successful”, and did not rule out further military action against Iran-backed militias.

The strikes were in retaliation for a series of rocket attacks since late October against US interests in Iraq, including a barrage of more than 30 fired on Friday at an Iraqi base in Kirkuk, where a US civilian contractor was killed.

The office of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who is highly revered by Iraq’s Shiite majority, denounced the attacks.

“The authorities must prevent Iraq being used as a place for the settling of accounts,” it said in reference to growing tensions between the United States and Iran.

These tensions have soared since Washington pulled out of a multilateral nuclear agreement with Tehran last year and imposed crippling sanctions.

Iraqi leaders fear their country could become a battleground between Tehran and Washington, in a context where they are also grappling with huge street protests against corruption and Iran’s political influence.

Pro-Iran factions angry

The protest movement forced prime minister Abel Abdel Mahdi to resign last month and it has rejected Iran’s favoured successor — a position shared by President Barham Saleh.

On Monday demonstrators in the Shiite-dominated southern cities of Basra and Najaf torched US flags and chanted anti-American slogans, with similar scenes reported in Kirkuk north of Baghdad.

US sources say pro-Iran armed factions now pose a greater threat than the Islamic State group, whose rise saw the US freshly deploy troops on Iraqi soil.

But significant elements of the Iraqi political class view the 5,200 US troops in the country as a “threat”, with Sunday night’s strikes reviving calls for them to leave the country.

Abdel Mahdi’s military spokesman decried “a violation of Iraqi sovereignty”, while the Hezbollah brigades are demanding the “withdrawal of the American enemy”.

Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah — which is separate from the targeted faction — called the attacks a “flagrant violation of Iraq’s sovereignty and security” and noted that Hashed had been a key player in the battle against IS.

Another powerful pro-Iran group, Assaib Ahl al-Haq — whose leaders were recently hit with US sanctions — also called for Americans to withdraw from Iraq.

“The American military presence has become a burden for the Iraqi state and a source of threat against our forces. It is therefore imperative for all of us to do everything to expel them by all legitimate means,” it said.

Parliament’s deputy speaker, part of influential Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr’s bloc, called on the Iraqi state to “take all necessary measures” in the face of the US attacks.

The Badr organisation, another key pro-Iran group, took a similar line.

Several lawmakers have castigated afresh an agreement permitting American soldiers to deploy in the country, arguing the strikes amount to a violation that renders the pact obsolete.

Since October 28, at least 11 attacks have targeted Iraqi military bases where US soldiers or diplomats are deployed.

Yemen Missile Strike Kills Five Southern Separatists

 

A missile struck a passing out ceremony in southern Yemen on Sunday, killing at least five southern separatists, security officials said.

The ceremony in the town of Ad-Dali was for new recruits to the separatist-dominated Security Belt Forces, a formation trained and equipped by the United Arab Emirates to patrol territory retaken from northern rebels or Al-Qaeda, its spokesmen Majed al-Shuaibi said.

Five soldiers were killed and nine others wounded when the missile hit the reviewing stand during the march-past.

Shuaibi told AFP the missile was fired by the Huthi Shiite rebels who control the capital Sanaa and much of the north.

But there was no immediate claim of responsibility from the Iran-allied rebels, whose forces are present in the mountains just 60 kilometres (40 miles) north of Ad-Dali.

In August, 36 Security Belt soldiers were killed in a drone and missile attack by the Huthis on a passing out ceremony just outside the main southern city of Aden.

The security forces in the south have also come under repeated attack by both Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group.

There has also been a war within a war between rival unionists and separatist elements of the loyalist security forces.

The Security Belt Forces seized Aden in deadly fighting with unionists in August and a fragile truce reached in Saudi Arabia last month has so far failed to produce a promised power-sharing government.

Turkey Says Will Not Withdraw From Army Posts In Syria’s Idlib

 

 

Turkey will not withdraw from its observation posts in the Syrian rebel bastion province of Idlib which has seen an increase in violence carried out by regime forces supported by Russian airstrikes, the defence minister said.

The posts were established under a September 2018 deal between Syrian regime ally Moscow and Ankara, which backs the rebels, to avert an all-out Syrian government onslaught in Idlib.

President Bashar al-Assad’s forces surrounded one of 12 Turkish observation posts in Idlib province on Monday after overrunning nearby areas in a push to take the last opposition holdout, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

“We respect the agreement reached with Russia and we expect Russia to abide by this agreement,” Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said in comments published on Sunday on the defence ministry’s Twitter account.

“We will by no means empty those 12 observation posts, we will not leave there,” Akar said.

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His comments came during a visit, together with top army commanders, to the southern province of Hatay on the Syrian border to inspect Turkish troops on Saturday.

Turkey, worried over a new wave of refugees from the Idlib region, is pressing for a fresh ceasefire deal, as it sent a delegation to Moscow on Monday.

“We are doing what’s needed to put an end to this massacre,” Akar was quoted as saying by the official news agency Anadolu.

He said Ankara expected Damascus ally Russia to “use its influence on the regime in order to stop ground and air assault” in Idlib.

The latest violence has displaced more than 235,000 people and killed scores of civilians, despite an August ceasefire deal and international calls for a de-escalation.

The Idlib region hosts some three million people including many displaced by years of violence in other parts of Syria.

“As long as this pressure remains in place, it will trigger a new migrant wave and put further burden on Turkey which is already hosting nearly four million Syrian brothers,” said Akar.

Around 300 protesters — mostly Syrians living in Turkey — held an anti-Moscow demonstration near the Russian consulate in Istanbul on Saturday against the intensified attacks in Idlib, shouting “murderer Putin, get out of Syria!”, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Libya timetable

Akar’s visit to soldiers on the border region comes as Turkey is also readying to send troops to support the UN-recognised government in Tripoli against strongman Khalifa Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army.

“The Turkish Armed Forces are ready for whatever task is given in order to protect our country and people’s interests,” Akar said.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday said Ankara would respond to an invitation from the Libyan national unity government and that the Turkish parliament would vote on a motion to send troops as soon as it returns from recess as early as next month.

Ankara signed in November a security and military cooperation deal with the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) but in order to send troops, parliament needs to vote through a motion as it does for Iraq and Syria.

Anadolu news agency, citing sources in Erdogan’s ruling party, reported that the timetable could be brought forward and the motion could be presented to the parliamentary speaker’s office on Monday.

The General Assembly could vote the measure in an extraordinary session on Thursday, it said. Parliament is due to return from recess on January 7.

Over 235,000 Flee Northwest Syria In Two Weeks – UN

This picture taken on December 24, 2019, in the village of Hazano, about 20 kilometres northwest of the city of Idlib, shows Syrian families from the south of Idlib province driving through the town towards the Syrian-Turkish border as they flee from the assault led by government forces and their allies. Aaref WATAD / AFP

 

More than 235,000 people have fled the Idlib region over the past two weeks, the UN said Friday, amid heightened regime and Russian attacks on Syria’s last major opposition bastion. 

The mass displacement between 12 and 25 December has left the violence-plagued Maaret al-Numan region in southern Idlib “almost empty,” according to the UN humanitarian agency OCHA.

AFP correspondents in the area have seen people fleeing in droves in recent days.

The main highway connecting southern Idlib to the province’s north has been bustling with pick-up trucks ferrying civilians out of the flashpoint region.

Since mid-December, Russian-backed regime forces have pressed with an assault on jihadists in southern Idlib, despite an August ceasefire deal and calls for a de-escalation from Turkey, France and the United Nations.

The increased air strikes came as Damascus loyalists advance on the ground.

They have since December 19 seized dozens of towns and villages from jihadists amid clashes that have killed hundreds on both sides.

The advances have brought them less than four kilometres (two miles) away from Maaret al-Numan, one of Idlib’s largest urban centres.

According to OCHA, ongoing battles have amplified displacement from the area and the nearby town of Saraqeb.

“People from Saraqab and its eastern countryside are now fleeing in anticipation of fighting directly affecting their communities next,” it said.

Idlib is dominated by the country’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, whose chief this week urged jihadists and allied rebels to head to the frontlines and battle “the Russian occupiers” and the regime.

The region hosts some three million people, including many displaced by years of violence in other parts of Syria.

The Damascus regime, which now controls 70 percent of Syria, has repeatedly vowed to take back the area.

Backed by Moscow, Damascus launched a blistering offensive against Idlib in April, killing around 1,000 civilians and displacing more than 400,000 people.

Despite a ceasefire announced in August, the bombardment has continued, prompting Turkey this week to press for a fresh ceasefire deal during talks in Moscow.

France on Tuesday called for an “an immediate de-escalation,” warning of deteriorating humanitarian conditions.

The war in Syria has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it began with anti-government demonstrations brutally crushed by security forces.

Trump Calls For End To Killing In Syria Rebel Bastion

 

on Thursday called for the governments in Moscow, Damascus and Tehran to stop the bloodshed that has displaced thousands in Syria’s rebel-held province of Idlib.

Heightened regime and Russian bombardment has hit the country’s last major opposition bastion since mid-December, as regime forces make advances on the ground despite an August ceasefire and United Nations calls for a de-escalation.

“Russia, Syria, and Iran are killing, or on their way to killing, thousands” of civilians in jihadist-held Idlib, Trump tweeted, adding: “Don’t do it!”

Nearly 80 civilians have been killed by airstrikes and artillery attacks in the last two weeks, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which estimates that more than 40,000 people have been displaced.

Turkey called Tuesday for the attacks to “come to an end immediately,” after sending a delegation to Moscow to discuss the flare-up.

Presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said Ankara was pressing for a new ceasefire to replace the August agreement.

Trump praised Turkey’s efforts, tweeting that Ankara “is working hard to stop this carnage.”

In a statement earlier this week, the Syrian army said it had seized 123 square miles (320 square kilometers) from its rivals in recent days.

It has pledged to continue its push until it recaptures all of Idlib, calling on civilians to exit areas under jihadist control.

Idlib is dominated by the country’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham.

Years of violence

The head of the group has urged jihadists and allied rebels to head to the front lines and battle “the Russian occupiers” and the regime.

Their “ferocious” campaign “requires us to exert more effort,” HTS chief Abu Mohammed al-Jolani said Tuesday in a statement.

Idlib, in northwestern Syria, hosts some three million people, including many displaced by years of violence in other parts of the country.

The Damascus regime, which now controls 70 percent of Syria, has repeatedly vowed to take back the area.

Backed by Moscow, Damascus launched a blistering offensive against Idlib in April, killing around 1,000 civilians and displacing more than 400,000 people.

Despite a ceasefire announced in August, the bombardment has continued, killing hundreds of civilians and fighters.

The latest spike in violence comes after Russia and China on Friday vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that would have extended for a year cross-border aid deliveries to four million Syrians, many of them in Idlib.

The move raised fears that vital UN-funded assistance could stop entering opposition-held parts of Syria from January unless an alternative agreement is reached.

Syria’s war has killed over 370,000 people and displaced millions since beginning in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.

17 Civilians Killed In 3rd Attack On Yemen Market

 

Seventeen civilians were killed in an attack in a market in Yemen’s northern Saada governorate, the United Nations said, the third deadly assault on the same location in just over a month.

The attacks come despite relative calm in Yemen, where large-scale combat between government troops — backed by a Saudi-led military coalition — and the Iran-aligned Huthi rebels has largely subsided.

The UN said 12 Ethiopian migrants were among the 17 civilians killed in the incident on Tuesday at the Al-Raqw market in Saada governorate, a Huthi rebel stronghold.

At least 12 people were wounded, it said, without saying who was responsible or what weaponry was used.

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The Saudi-led coalition acknowledged on Thursday it had carried out an operation in Monabbih, a Saada district where the market is located.

The Joint Incident Assessment Team (JIAT) — which the coalition established but says operates independently — will investigate “the possibility of collateral damage”, coalition spokesman Turki al-Maliki said in a statement.

The coalition did not provide further details.

An attack on Al-Raqw market on November 22 killed 10 civilians, again including Ethiopian nationals, and just days later, at least another 10 civilians were killed and 22 wounded in a second such incident.

“The attacks on Al-Raqw market raise deeply troubling questions about the commitment of the parties to the conflict to uphold international humanitarian law,” Lise Grande, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, said Wednesday.

“Every attack of this kind is a gross violation,” she said in a statement.

The UN says 89 civilians have either been killed or wounded in the attacks on the market.

Tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians, have been killed and millions displaced since March 2015, when the Saudi-led coalition intervened in Yemen’s conflict.

Over 60 Killed In Niger Military Camp Attack

 

 

Jihadists attacked a Niger military camp near the border with Mali with artillery and mortars, killing more than 60 people, a security source said on Wednesday.

Tuesday’s attack in Inates in the western Tillaberi region was the deadliest on Niger’s military since the armed forces began fighting Islamist militants in 2015.

“The attack killed more than 60,” the source said. “The terrorists bombarded the camp with shelling and mortars. The explosions from ammunition and fuel were the cause of the heavy toll.”

The source did not say which group was responsible for the deadly assault.

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Niger forces are fighting against Boko Haram militants in the southeast border with Nigeria and jihadists allied with the Islamic State in the west near Mali and Libya.

Three soldiers and 14 militants were also killed on Monday in an attack on another army post in Agando in the western Tahoua region, the defence ministry said.

Heavily armed “terrorists” in a dozen 4×4 vehicles led the attack early Monday morning on the military post in Tahoua, the ministry statement said.

Niger is part of a five-nation anti-jihadist task force known as the G5, set up in 2014 with Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, and Chad.

Thousands of civilians and soldiers have died in violence across the vast region, known as the Sahel, which began when armed Islamists revolted in northern Mali in 2012.