Three U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers were killed in Niger in northwestern Africa on Wednesday after their joint patrol with Nigerien forces was ambushed.
One “partner nation member” also died, and two other Americans were wounded, according to U.S. Africa Command, which released new details about the incident early Thursday. The wounded were evacuated to a military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, where they were in stable condition, officials said.
The Pentagon has not disclosed the troops’ names or service affiliation, pending notification of their families. Two U.S. officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive military operations, confirmed for The Washington Post that those involved were assigned to an elite Special Forces unit.
The incident occurred near the border with Mali. It was first reported Wednesday by the New York Times.
U.S. Africa Command, which is based in Stuttgart, Germany, has provided no details about the mission, except to say it was for counterterrorism purposes. It’s unclear, though, why this unit would come into contact with enemy forces while performing what’s typically considered a training and advisory role.
The deaths mark the first known hostile-fire casualties in Niger. A 3rd Special Forces Group soldier was killed in a vehicle accident there in February.
Local media reported that the joint patrol was lured into an ambush near the village of Tongo Tongo in the Tillaberi region. The attackers were described as coming from neighboring Mali, where al-Qaeda’s North Africa branch has been battling both the government and a French-led coalition seeking to root them out of their desert hideouts.
The United States has expanded its operations in Niger in recent years, including surveillance drone flights piloted from Niamey, the capital. The United States is also finishing construction on an installation at Agadez, a central city in the Sahara, that will move flights closer to southern Libya and northern Mali. Closer proximity will allow longer flights, giving drone operators more time to monitor remote desert stretches where militants are known to traverse.
SOURCE: Alex Horton
The Washington Post