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Drone Strikes Kill 40 Jihadis in Niger

FILE - This photo provided by the French Defense Ministry communication center and taken Tuesday Dec. 17, 2019, shows French soldiers loading a French Reaper drone with two GBU 12 missiles on Niamey airbase, Niger.

France's military reported Thursday that its drone operations in Niger succeeded in killing a number of Islamic insurgents in a troubled zone.

The French military announced Thursday that 40 Islamic militants had been struck by drone strikes while traveling on motorcycles near Niger's border with Burkina Faso.

The French forces described the operation, dubbed Barkhane, as a "new tactical victory" for France's counterterrorism efforts in Africa's Sahel area.

The Barkhane statement announced "Intelligence gathered from Nigerien soldiers in contact with the column revealed that the motorbikes belonged to an armed terrorist organization going between Burkina Faso and Niger."

Extremist violence is growing in the Sahel, including in Niger’s southwest neighbor, Burkina Faso, which is battling growing jihadist attacks

The Niger government also issued a statement, saying the jihadis were slain following an attack earlier this week in southwestern Niger which killed eight security officers.

Niger has become a more trustworthy ally to France after military coups deposed democratically elected presidents in neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso during the previous two years.

Earlier this year, France said that it will withdraw all of its forces from Mali to other countries in the Sahel region including Niger, nine years after the French military spearheaded a campaign to drive Islamic militants out of Timbuktu and other northern Mali cities.

The drone strikes in Niger come as France reorganizes its military efforts in the Sahel region, a huge territory south of the Sahara Desert where it was once a colonial power and still has substantial economic ties..