Niger says 23 of its soldiers have been killed in a "terrorist" ambush near the borders with Burkina Faso and Mali in a western region prone to jihadist attacks.

Niger is ruled by military leaders who seized power in a July coup, citing a worsening security situation as justification for the power grab.

But jihadist violence that had already gone on for eight years has continued.

In the latest bout, Nigerien soldiers were engaged in a security sweep in Tillaberi, in the three borders area, on Tuesday and Wednesday, the defence ministry said late Thursday.

They were killed during a "complex ambush", it said, adding that "about 30 terrorists had been neutralised".

The army raids were "designed to reassure local people" who were being targeted by armed groups engaged in "murders, extortion and cattle rustling", the ministry said.

More than 100 "terrorists" in vehicles and on motorbikes attacked the army unit between Teguey and Bankilare using "home-made bombs and suicide vehicles".

In addition to the 23 soldiers who died, 17 were wounded.

Three days of national mourning began Friday, according to a statement read on state television.

- New partners -


Tillaberi borders Burkina Faso and Mali -- also under military regimes -- in a region plagued by jihadist attacks.

Groups linked to Al-Qaeda and Islamic State have operated in Tillaberi since 2017 despite a massive deployment of anti-jihadist forces.

In January, 22 civilians were killed in an attack on the Tillaberi village of Motogatta, about 100 kilometres (60 miles) north of the capital Niamey.

On the other side of the sprawling Sahelian country in the southeastern region of Diffa near Nigeria, the regime also faces violence by Boko Haram jihadists and their rivals Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP).

Niger, one of the world's poorest countries, had been a frontline partner of the West in battling jihadists in the Sahel.

But after seizing power, the junta, led by General Abdourahamane Tiani, kicked out forces from former colonial power France, whose 1,500 troops had left Niger by the end of last year.

Like neighbours Mali and Burkina Faso who are also battling jihadist violence, Niger has pursued relations with Russia, as well as with Turkey and Iran.

On Saturday, the military also announced it was breaking off a 2012 agreement with the United States "with immediate effect".

Washington built a desert drone base at a cost of $100 million in northern Niger and has some 1,000 troops in the West African country.

Earlier this week, it described military ties with Niger as mutually beneficial and said it was awaiting clarification on the announcement severing cooperation.

- Border reopens -


Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali last year formed an Alliance of Sahel States and this month announced the creation of a joint anti-jihadist force.

The three nations have also announced their intention to withdraw from regional bloc the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

ECOWAS threatened military intervention and imposed tough sanctions on Niger after the ousting of its democratically elected president.

The bloc lifted the sanctions last month, and on Friday, the border between Niger and key trade partner Nigeria reopened to road traffic after seven months of closure, local people told AFP.