Three Army Green Berets were killed and two other Army Special Forces were injured Wednesday in the West African nation of Niger. A local official in Niger told Reuters five Nigerien troops were also killed. The New York Times reports the American commandos are in the country training local troops and were on patrol with the Nigerien soldiers when they were ambushed near the border with Mali in an area the Al Qaeda affiliate Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb has used to stage cross-border raids in the past.
"We can confirm reports that a joint U.S. and Nigerien patrol came under hostile fire in southwest Niger," an Army spokesman said in a statement Wednesday. "We are working to confirm details on the incident and will have more information as soon as we can confirm facts on the ground.”
Niger has become a key American security partner in the region, as both countries look to combat extremist groups operating there. The U.S. has increased its attention and resources devoted to the Sahel region of northern Africa, a band stretching from Senegal to Sudan. Upheaval in Libya has also raised concerns that ISIS-linked fighters crossing the border could present a new security threat in Niger, a country that is already grappling with Al Qaeda affiliated groups operating across the Sahel’s porous borders and Boko Haram militants spilling over from Nigeria. “Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb has maintained a presence in the Mali-Niger border area, despite a multi-year French-led military counterterrorism effort, Operation Barkhane, which began in 2014,” according to CNN. “The US military has largely played a supporting role, providing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets in support French forces operating in Mali and Niger. The French operation involves thousands of French troops as well as forces from Germany, Mali, Niger and other countries in the region.”
The deaths are the first reported American casualties in the U.S. training and support mission in Niger.