Jihad rages already in neighboring Nigeria, and now it is spreading to other areas of West Africa. From AP, with thanks to Twostellas:
Faced with a growing threat from Islamic militants, Niger is deploying extra troops to its troubled northern deserts with plans to multiply army patrols and set up a permanent forward operating base to improve security, the defense minister said Tuesday.
Fighters from the Salafist Group for Call and Combat are operating in Niger, and the army has battled them several times since Feb. 22, Defense Minister Hassane Bonta told reporters during a rare news conference.
The Salafist group is an Algerian Islamic militant organization believed to have links to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida.
It is “imperative to equip the Niger army with the means to act against this new situation,” Bonta said, calling the militants “terrorists.”
The defense minister didn’t say how many extra troops would be deployed or what other equipment they would receive. He also declined to say where the new northern army base would be established.
Niger’s army first exchanged fire with the Salafist group Feb. 6 in Midal, about 370 miles northeast of the capital, Niamey, Bonta said.
The same day further north, troops battled a Salafist group that attacked French tourists, he said.
On March 5, in a joint operation with troops from neighboring Chad, soldiers cornered a group of Salafist guerrillas on Niger’s eastern border, near a military base at Dao Timi, Bonta said.
Reinforcements were sent to the region and skirmishes continued, ending in the death of 43 last week.
Chadian officials reported the fighting Friday, saying it took place between March 8-9 near a remote village on Chad’s western border with Niger, from where the Salafist militants had come. Bonta said Niger troops didn’t cross the border.
“After reinforcing our troops, our soldiers pursued (the militants) up to the border with Chad,” Bonta said, cornering them along the frontier.
Three Chadian soldiers were killed and 18 were wounded, according to military authorities from both countries.
Bonta said no Niger soldiers died. Five militants were detained along with equipment they were forced to leave behind – five vehicles, mortars, AK-47s, heavy guns and two pairs of night vision goggles.
U.S. military officials believe the open deserts and weak, impoverished governments of West Africa provide and inviting refuge for terrorists, and have been stepping up activities in the region as a result.
Under the auspices of a State Department-funded program called as the Pan-Sahel Initiative, U.S. forces are aiding armies in Niger, Chad, Mali and Mauritania to better guard their porous borders and fight terrorists. U.S. special operations forces are on the ground already in Mali and Mauritania, training troops there.
The Sahel is a vast region between the southern edge of the Sahara desert and dense rain forests further south.