Reuters International

French President Francois Hollande (R) shakes hands with Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou during a meeting at teh Elysee Palace in Paris, France, June 14, 2016. REUTERS/Thibault Camus

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PARIS (Reuters) - President Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger called on Tuesday for France to strengthen military operations against West African Islamist militants, including Boko Haram after its fighters carried out a deadly attack on a Nigerien town.

France currently has some 3,500 troops spread across five countries - Chad, Mauritania, Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso - in the region as part of a two-year-old operation to hunt down jihadists.

Paris also assists West African states in the fight against the Nigeria-based Boko Haram with intelligence, logistics and training, but does not have combat troops directly involved.

"We want ... a strengthening of this operation across the Sahel, including to address the threats we are facing today with Boko Haram," Issoufou told reporters after a meeting with French President François Hollande in Paris.

Hollande said earlier, during the same press conference, that France would back the multinational force - that includes Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Benin - in its fight against Boko Haram, without giving further details.

Boko Haram killed 26 Nigerien soldiers when it stormed and seized the southeastern town of Bosso on June 3. The attack, one of the deadliest by Boko Haram in Niger, spurred neighbouring Chad to send in 2,000 troops to prepare a counter-attack.

"We hope France will continue to support us in terms of intelligence and operational capacities to deal with this extremely dangerous threat," Issoufou said in Paris.

France said in April it would increase the number of its troops in Ivory Coast to counter growing jihadist threats in the region, and could deploy them further afield if needed.

But the French military, also involved in the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, has been overstretched since last year's IS attacks on Paris that led authorities to deploy around 10,000 troops in France.

(Reporting by Marine Pennetier; Editing by Tim Cocks/Mark Heinrich)

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