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Boko Haram Launches Its First Ever Attack on Niger

The Nigerian militant group struck the Niger border town of Bosso days before Niger’s parliament is set to vote on whether to send troops into Nigeria.

by Pierre Longeray
Feb 6 2015, 8:35pm

Photo via Associated Press

The Nigerian militant group Boko Haram launched its first assault on Niger Friday, attacking the town of Bosso, located just across the border from the northeast region of Nigeria mostly controlled by the Islamist militants.

Niger troops and Chadian warplanes fought off the insurgents who, according to the BBC, launched their attack "early in the morning, with heavy weapons." Reuters has reported that at least five Niger troops were injured in the attack.

The incursion came a day after a French army spokesman confirmed French troops were stationed in the nearby city of Diffa — situated less than 10 miles west of Bossa in Niger — as part of an initiative to support Chad and Niger's armies.

This week, Chadian troops entered Nigeria to try and break Boko Haram's grip on the border town of Gamboru. This coming Monday, Niger's parliament was scheduled to vote on whether or not to send its own troops to Nigeria to help combat the militants. Speaking to VICE News on Friday, a Niger government spokesman said he hoped "parliament would approve the deployment of troops….It's a question of national security for us."

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Wednesday marked Boko Haram's first ever incursion outside of Nigeria, when militants crossed the border into Cameroon, storming the town of Fotokol and killing 70, according to local authorities. Fearing that an attack in Niger was imminent, Chad deployed hundreds of vehicles along the border between Niger and Nigeria.

In a statement released Thursday, the French army confirmed it had stationed French troops in the border town of Diffa, in Niger — the first official acknowledgement that France is actively participating in the fight against Boko Haram.

Speaking to VICE News this morning, a French army spokesman confirmed that the mission had been "launched near the end of January," but that officials "do not know how long it will last."

"If any one of our G5 Sahel partners — of which Niger is a member — is made vulnerable, it compromises operation Barkhane," said the spokesman, referencing two international security initiatives in the region.

G5 Sahel is a regional organization made up of Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad, and Burkina Faso. It was formed to enhance cooperation on development and security in the Sahel region. Launched in July 2014, Operation Barkhane is an anti-Islamist campaign across Africa's Sahel region.

"France is not there to attack Boko Haram," former air force general and former French defense ministry advisor Michel Asencio told VICE News Friday morning. "The Chadian army is already well equipped." Asencio said France would be offering up its "expertise on military reconnaissance and strategy in order to help the foreign armies attack key Boko Haram positions."

The French army spokesman confirmed Asencio's analysis: "This is not our fight."

Jean-Claude Allard, a research director at the Institute for International and Strategic Relations (IRIS), explained that the French deployment was "anchored within a wider discussion."

"The [2013] French intervention in Mali was motivated by the jihadist threat in the north of the country," he told VICE News. "The pressure that had been building up to the north of the Sahel has shifted south to Lake Chad, where Nigeria, Niger, Chad, and Cameroon share a border."

This shift is what motivated the deployment of the French military advisors in Diffa, explained Allard, adding that the troops are "tasked with helping France's allies to plan and coordinate their offensives."

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Asencio says the strategic resources given to Niger are in line with France's "containment strategy," which consists of limiting the spread of Boko Haram. The group, which currently controls large swathes of northern Nigeria, has threatened to expand the reach of its caliphate to neighboring Niger, Chad, and Cameroon.

Speaking Tuesday at a memorial for the nine French soldiers killed when a Greek fighter jet crashed on takeoff at the Spanish military base of Albacete, French president François Hollande said that, "French aircraft were flying over Nigeria […] as we speak." The French government later backpedalled, saying the army was merely cooperating with "the fight against Boko Haram as part of an international intelligence unit."

Speaking to VICE News this morning, a spokesperson for France's military confirmed that French aircraft had "carried out regular flyovers over Nigeria's border with Niger and Chad to monitor the situation."

Follow Pierre Longeray on Twitter: @PLongeray