US Army special forces soldiers die in ambush in Niger

US Army special forces soldiers die in ambush in Niger

A squad of about 10 to 12 members of the U.S. Army Special Forces were on a joint patrol with the Nigerien military near Niger's border with Mali on Wednesday when they came under attack.

Five Nigerien soldiers also were killed in the attack, according to a Nigerien security official.

The U.S. military said on Friday that a fourth soldier was killed during an October 4 attack in Niger, raising the death toll from an incident that has thrown a spotlight on the U.S. counterterrorism mission in the West African nation.

"A joint patrol of the Defense and Security Forces and American partners operating in the border area of Mali fell into an ambush set by terrorist elements aboard a dozen vehicles and about twenty motorcycles", the statement said.

United States officials assess that these terrorist groups view Chad, Niger and Mali as being particularity important as they serve as bridges between north and sub-Saharan Africa, saying that local al Qaeda and ISIS affiliates use control of these transit routes to gain revenue that helps them recruit, expand and export attacks. French helicopters, scrambled after the USA call for help, evacuated several soldiers wounded in the clash.

USA officials say they believe extremists linked to ISIS were responsible for the attack about 200 kilometers north of Niger's capital of Niamey.

Officials have said the Green Berets were likely attacked by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb militants.

About 800 US personnel are assigned to posts in Niger, mostly at two sites focused on gathering aerial reconnaissance for Nigerian forces.

In a press conference at the Pentagon Thursday, Lieutenant General Kenneth McKenzie defended the US presence in the country.

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The four combat deaths mark the first known hostile-fire casualties among US forces in Niger.

He said there were about a dozen US forces accompanying a company of Niger troops, for a total of about 40 service members in the joint mission.

"I would say that over the last few years we have increased our military presence in that country", McKenzie told reporters at the Pentagon.

France and Germany also have bases in Niger, reflecting its strategic importance in the counterterrorism struggle.

Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad are putting together a 5,000-strong G5 Sahel force to fight the growing threat from extremists in the vast Sahel region.

The White House said President Donald Trump was notified about the attack Wednesday night as he flew aboard Air Force One from Las Vegas to Washington, D.C.

The countries have been pressing the global community to help with equipping troops and ensuring their mobility and to help with logistics, communications and protection in the field.

In Niger, Washington has deployed around 800 soldiers, runs a drone base in the capital Niamey and is building a second in Agadez at a cost of around $100 million.

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