Niger Republic said 23 of its soldiers were killed in a “terrorist” ambush near the borders with Burkina Faso and Mali in a western region prone to jihadist attacks.

Niger is ruled by military leaders who seized power in a July coup, citing a worsening security situation as justification for the power grab.

But jihadist violence that had already gone on for eight years has continued.

In the latest bout, Nigerien soldiers were engaged in a security sweep in Tillaberi, in the three borders area, on Tuesday and Wednesday, the defence ministry said late Thursday.

They were killed during a “complex ambush”, it said, adding that “about 30 terrorists had been neutralised”.

The army raids were “designed to reassure local people” who were being targeted by armed groups engaged in “murders, extortion and cattle rustling”, the ministry said.

More than 100 “terrorists” had attacked the army unit between Teguey and Bankilare using “homemade bombs and suicide vehicles”, it said.

In addition to the 23 soldiers who died, 17 were wounded.

– Severing old ties –

Tillaberi borders Burkina Faso and Mali – also ruled by military leaders – in a region plagued by jihadist attacks.

Groups linked to Al-Qaeda and Islamic State have operated in Tillaberi since 2017 despite a massive deployment of anti-jihadist forces.

In January, 22 civilians were killed in an attack on the Tillaberi village of Motogatta, about 100 kilometres (60 miles) north of the capital Niamey.

Niger, one of the world’s poorest countries, had been a frontline partner of the West in battling jihadists in the Sahel.

But after seizing power, the junta kicked out forces from former colonial power France and, like neighbours Mali and Burkina Faso, has pursued relations with Russia.

On Saturday, the military also announced it was breaking off a 2012 agreement with the United States “with immediate effect.”

Washington built a desert drone base at a cost of $100 million in northern Niger and has some 1,000 troops in the West African country.

Earlier this week, it described military ties with Niger as mutually beneficial and said it was awaiting clarification on the announcement severing cooperation.

Meanwhile, about 16 operatives of the Nigerian Army were recently ambushed and killed in Delta State.

The fallen soldiers, serving with the 181 Amphibious Battalion, were on a peacekeeping mission to quell community clashes in Bomadi Local Government of Delta State when the incident occurred.