WASHINGTON — American commandos killed in a joint patrol with Nigerien forces had close-air support available if they needed it, an official at U.S. Africa Command told Military Times.

There are several locations from which U.S. air support could have been requested and launched, said the official, who spoke to Military Times on background. But AFRICOM would not provide further information on what platforms or locations those aircraft would have flown out of, citing operational security.

Officials at AFRICOM cannot confirm at this time if U.S. forces attempted to call in close-air support.

Three U.S. special operators were killed and two others were wounded Wednesday when their joint patrol with Nigerien forces came under attack from unknown assailants. Four partner force service members were also killed in the attack, according to AFRICOM.

U.S. forces operating in Niger are there on a train and advise mission, an official at AFRICOM told Military Times. They are not there in a combat role, the official added.

Moreover, for over a year now, Niger has hosted a drone base in Agadez, Niger, an official confirmed to Military Times. U.S. drones operating out of the base are generally unarmed and are tasked with providing surveillance and intelligence collection.

Niger has been plagued with instability over the last several years and hosts a plethora of extremist groups to include al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, and Boko Haram. Even Somali-based al Shabaab militants have been known to operate in the region.

Insurgent groups and Islamist factions have taken advantage of ungoverned space in the region, occupying areas in neighboring countries like Chad and Mali. Adding to the instability, Libya’s once expansive armories have flooded the region after Muammar Gaddafi’s downfall in 2011.

The two U.S. service members wounded in the attack have been flown to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany where they are in stable condition, according to AFRICOM.

Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.

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