The soldiers were first ambushed then, as they tried to evacuate their wounded, were hit by an improvised explosive device in the country's southwest, according to defence ministry.

FILE PHOTO: Nigerien soldiers patrol at the border with neighbouring Nigeria near the town of Diffa, Niger, on June 21, 2016.
FILE PHOTO: Nigerien soldiers patrol at the border with neighbouring Nigeria near the town of Diffa, Niger, on June 21, 2016. (Reuters)

Fifteen soldiers have been killed and six more are missing after a "terrorist" attack in southwest Niger, near the border with Burkina Faso, the defence ministry announced.

In Saturday's attack, the soldiers were first ambushed then, as they tried to evacuate their wounded, were hit by an improvised explosive device, said a ministry statement.

The toll of the attack in the Torodi region is "15 soldiers killed, seven wounded and six missing," the statement added.

Increasing attacks on civilians

Backed by military aircraft, Niger's ground forces launched a "wide search of the area" in order to "apprehend the terrorists," the statement said.

Torodi is in the southwest of the Tillaberi region which lies along the borders of Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali.

It is subject to frequent attacks by the Daesh in the Greater Sahara (EIGS) and an Al Qaeda-affiliated group, the largest militant alliance in the Sahel.

The suspected militant attacks increasingly target civilians in the Tillaberi region, a vast, arid territory.

Some 33 villagers were killed in two separate attacks within the last week further north, towards the border with Mali.

A contingent of 1,200 Chadian soldiers is deployed in the three-borders region as part of a multinational force put together by the G5 Sahel group, which comprises Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.

Over 2M people displaced

Rated the poorest country in the world under the UN's Human Development Index, Niger is battling militant insurgencies on its southwestern flank with Mali and on its southeastern border with Nigeria.

Thousands of soldiers and civilians have died and more than two million people have been displaced in the impoverished region.

READ MORE: Thirteen militants, four civilians killed in Niger: military

Source: AFP