WASHINGTON — A joint American and Nigerien patrol came under hostile fire in southwest Niger, officials at U.S. Africa Command confirmed Wednesday.
According to officials from AFRICOM, U.S. forces “were providing advice and assistance to Nigerien security force counter-terror operations about 125 miles north of Niamey.”
The Associated Press reported Wednesday evening that three U.S. Army special operations commandos were killed Wednesday and two others were wounded in the attack.
Officials at AFRICOM confirmed Thursday morning that three U.S service members were killed in the attack along with one service member from a partner nation force.
The officials said the commandos, who were Green Berets, were likely attacked by al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb militants, according to an earlier AP report.
Two other U.S. service members were wounded in that attack but are in stable condition, according to a press release from AFRICOM. They have been transported to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.
The AP also reported that President Donald Trump was notified about the attack Wednesday night as he flew aboard Air Force One from Las Vegas to Washington. Trump was in Las Vegas meeting with victims of Sunday night’s shooting massacre, along with first responders and doctors.
“U.S. forces are in Niger to provide training and security assistance to the Nigerien Armed Forces, including support for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance efforts, in their efforts to target violent extremist organizations in the region,” Navy Lt. Cmdr. Anthony Falvo, a spokesman for U.S. Africa Command, told Military Times.
U.S. forces face a task fraught with complications stemming from Mali’s complex political atmosphere, which features a plethora of extremist groups, terrorist organizations and sophisticated weaponry.
A small contingent of U.S. special operations troops are also operating in neighboring Mali, according to Africa Command.
Their task is to share information and intelligence with U.S. partners on the ground to combat al Qaida in the Maghreb, or AQIM, and its offshoots, officials at AFRICOM have previously told Military Times.
While AQIM’s numbers are assessed to number around 1,000, the group boasts a large interconnected network of terrorist allies to include Jamaat Nusrat al Islam wal Muslimin, or JNIM, a group that formed last March out of Ansar al Din.
Mali’s security situation has deteriorated since the downfall of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime, and Libya’s once massive armories and heavy weapons have flooded across Mali’s border.
Those weapons have ended up in the hands of Islamist insurgencies such as AQIM and JNIM, but also Tuareg separatists fighting under the banner of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad.
The border area between Mali and Niger also has been a hotbed of insurgent activity, where weapons, terrorists, and insurgents have flowed freely. Even factions of Somalia’s al Shabab are known to operate in the region.
The terror group Boko Haram is also known to operate in parts of Niger.
This year has been one of the deadliest years of fighting in Mali in over a decade.
Names of the U.S. service members killed in the attack are being withheld until next-of-kin are notified.
This story is breaking, and officials at AFRICOM are still working to confirm details of the incident. This story will be updated.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.