More than 70 soldiers feared killed in ambush in Niger

Nigerien commandos durinng April 2018 military exercises in Ouallam

This is the largest ever attack the Niger Army in the western Tilaberi area on Tuesday. Mali and Burkina Faso have borne the brunt of the violence, but the militants have also spilled over the border into Niger.

The large-scale attack comes amid a surge of assaults on army camps in the Sahel region, which have allowed jihadists to amass weapons and vehicles for their arsenal.

The attack was carried out by "heavily armed terrorists estimated to number many hundreds", the statement said, adding that "a substantial number of terrorists were neutralised".

"The attackers came in their dozens, in small groups on motorcycles", and surrounded the camp, she said.

President Mahamadou Issoufou arrived in Niger on Wednesday evening after cutting short a visit to Egypt, his office said in a tweet.

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No group has said it was behind the killings, but fighters linked to the Islamic State group and Nigeria-based Boko Haram are active in the area. The event, which aimed to address security in the volatile region, is now expected to take place early next year.

Four U.S. service members were killed, along with four Nigerian soldiers, about two years ago, occurring just miles from the attack, Fox News noted.

The strike in In-Atès near the border with Mali on Tuesday night emphasises the growing insecurity in a wide belt of poor and anarchic territory in west Africa and, if the death toll is confirmed, is the deadliest on Niger's forces in recent memory.

Attacks continue despite the 4,500 French troops deployed in the region as part of Operation Barkhane to help local forces.

The violence was 30 miles (45 kilometres) from Ouallam, where four US service members died along with four Nigerien soldiers two years ago when their joint patrol came under fire in a massive ambush.

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