Three U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers were killed and two others were wounded in an ambush in the west African country of Niger. A joint patrol of Green Berets and Nigerien soldiers were attacked in the southwestern part of Niger, U.S. Africa Command confirmed on Wednesday.
U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers were on a routine patrol with Nigerien troops that they were training when they were ambushed, according to the New York Times, which cited U.S. military officials. There were between eight and 10 troops who were included in the patrol which is located near the border with Mali, officials told Fox News.
The commandos were reported to have been attacked by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, officials told the Associated Press.
The officials added that the two wounded U.S. soldiers were taken to the capital of Niamey and are in stable condition.
Africa Command says the U.S. forces are in Niger to provide training and security assistance to the Nigerien Armed Forces in their efforts against violent extremists.
The attack was confirmed after Radio France International (RFI) reported a hostile ambush in close proximity to the Mali border, according to CBS News. A spokesman for U.S. Africa Command confirmed that U.S. and Nigerien patrol came under lethal fire in Southwest Niger.
“We can confirm reports that a joint U.S. and Nigerien patrol came under hostile fire in southwest Niger.”
According to Namatta Abubacar, an official in the region of Tillaberi, five Nigerien soldiers were included in the death toll.
The attackers had come from Mali and had killed several soldiers, according to a Niger diplomatic source.
A counter-attack was underway, Radio France International reported.
African security via troops from the West have ramped up efforts to counter jihadist groups forming part of a growing regional insurgency in the impoverished and sparsely populated deserts of the Sahel.
Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, a new militant group, has claimed some of the attacks, according to CNBC.
Geoff D. Porter, head of North Africa Risk Consulting, said that any confirmation of Islamic State’s role in Wednesday’s strike would lead to a strategic shift from Libya towards the Sahel band, stretching eastwards from Senegal to Chad.
“The emphasis… will now shift south.”
There are hundreds of soldiers a part of the U.S. Africa Command who are deployed across the region. In addition to this, many troops reside at an air facility in Agadez, which offers training and support to Niger’s army in intelligence gathering and surveillance.
The reported deaths mark the first time that U.S. soldiers have died while training armed forces in Niger.
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