Niger says West Africa is making progress in fight against extremists

Nigerien special forces prepare to fight Boko Haram in Diffa (March 2015). (GALLO IMAGES/REUTERS)

West African states are making progress in their fight against Islamist militants even as they grapple with the coronavirus pandemic, Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou said.

Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou attends Summit of Heads of State and Governments of the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) at the presidential wing of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport Abuja, Nigeira June 11, 2015. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

Affected states are working closely with international partners to keep up the fight against jihadists who have gained influence in recent years, with attacks spanning at least seven countries, Issoufou told a panel of African leaders at a New York Forum Institute webcast on Tuesday.

“The crisis hasn’t had an impact on military operations,” said Issoufou, who’s also chairman of the Economic Community of West African States. “Our armies and security forces are increasingly gaining ground on the terrorists,” even though threatened states now face the triple threat of “security, health and economic crises,” he said.

Niger has become the front line of the international effort to fight Islamist insurgencies in the Sahel, an arid area on the southern fringe of the Sahara Desert. The U.S. built a $110 million drone base in the northern city of Agadez, while France has deployed 5,100 military staff in the region. The government also receives European Union funding to stop migrants who try to cross its northern borders on their way to the Mediterranean.

Landlocked Niger, one of the world’s poorest countries, spent 19% of its budget on security last year in a bid to quell Islamist violence. Despite these efforts, attacks in the country rose fourfold last year, killing almost 400 people, according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, a State Department-funded group that monitors conflict globally.