Nigeria says 36 soldiers killed in an ambush by an armed group and a related helicopter crash

Nigeria's military says it lost 36 soldiers in attacks blamed on armed gangs in the country's northern region

August 18, 2023 12:12 am | Updated 12:12 am IST - ABUJA:

At least 36 Nigerian soldiers were killed in the country’s northcentral region this week during an ambush by armed gangs and in the crash of a helicopter sent to the scene, the nation's military said on Thursday.

Residents told the Associated Press that the helicopter was shot down by the armed gangs in Niger state’s Wushishi district following clashes earlier in the week, echoing warnings from analysts about the growing might of the gunmen in the country's hard-hit northern region.

Soldiers were conducting an “offensive operation” in Niger state on Monday when they were ambushed by the armed gangs, defense spokesman Maj. Gen. Edward Buba told reporters.

“The ambush and the firefight resulted in the death of three officers, 22 soldiers," he said, adding that seven soldiers were wounded.

A Nigerian Air Force helicopter was then sent to evacuate the casualties but it crashed in another part of the state, resulting in the death of 14 additional military personnel including the pilots and crew members, Buba said.

He said the reason for the crash is being investigated.

Thousands of Nigerians have been killed in the last year by the armed gangs which mostly comprise former herdsmen who have taken up arms after clashing with farming communities for several decades over limited access to land and water.

The defense spokesman said several other operations had left dozens of gang members either killed or in custody, and said that the security forces remain committed to restoring peace in violent hotspots.

The attack adds to other challenges confronting Nigeria’s President Bola Tinubu, who is leading efforts by the West Africa regional bloc of ECOWAS — which he chairs — to restore democracy in Niger after the recent coup.

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