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Niger Calls for Regional Force Against Sahel Jihadists

FILE - Niger's army soldiers ride on a pickup truck near Agadez, Niger, Oct. 29, 2019.
FILE - Niger's army soldiers ride on a pickup truck near Agadez, Niger, Oct. 29, 2019.

Niger's President Mohamed Bazoum on Thursday called for Nigeria to help create a regional military task force to combat insecurity in the Sahel region.

Nigeria's neighbors Niger and Burkina Faso are struggling to contain militant insurgencies aligned with the Islamic State and al-Qaida that have spread across their territories.

Nigeria already helped establish the Multinational Joint Task Force (MJTF) for the Lake Chad region, involving the armed forces of Chad and Niger and others to battle Boko Haram militants there.

"We want to replicate this kind of model in countries of Sahel," Bazoum said in a statement from Nigeria's presidency after meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja.

"Why? Because this model has allowed us in the Lake Chad basin to address a common threat," he said.

He said if Nigeria, Africa's biggest economy and a regional powerhouse, helped organize a similar model for the Sahel, it would reduce the financial burden to fight militants there.

Niger is attempting an initiative to talk to jihadis whose attacks have battered the country's southwest, as fears grow of a new wave of bloodshed.

The impoverished Sahel nation has been fearing a new onslaught in its Tillaberi region since France announced its troops would leave neighboring Mali.

Tillaberi is in the flashpoint "three borders" zone of Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali, where jihadis groups linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) operate.

In neighboring Burkina Faso, more than 2,000 people have died, according to an AFP tally, while the country's emergencies agency says more than 1.5 million people have fled their homes since a militant insurgency began there in 2015.

Burkina Faso is one of the poorest countries in the world, and its army is badly equipped and lacking training to deal with more mobile and determined jihadist forces.