A U.S. soldier assigned to 2nd Battalion, 20th Special Forces Group, received the Purple Heart on Friday for wounds sustained during a mortar attack in Mali early in 2022.
Master Sgt. Steven Corley, an intelligence specialist, was wounded in January while he was leading a six-person team in the African nation where French troops have been winding down a nine-year mission combating Islamic insurgents. The French mission has benefited from U.S. military support.
“While he was not engaged in direct action against enemy combatants, his injury demonstrates that we continue to have troops in harm’s way in Africa to defend America through our alliances and partnerships,” U.S. Africa Command spokeswoman Kelly Cahalan told Military Times.
The mortar attack occurred Jan. 23 on a base in the city of Gao, Mali. It wounded the one American and killed one French soldier.
Cahalan did not respond to a follow up question asking how many U.S. troops have been wounded in action in Africa in 2021 and so far in 2022.
U.S. troops have been wounded in Mali before, but the incidents rarely have been made public.
The last documented incident in which U.S. troops were wounded in Mali occurred in 2018 after local al-Qaida affiliates assaulted the U.N. Super Camp near Timbuktu Airport, which Military Times reported for the first time in 2020.
Corley received his own Purple Heart during a ceremony in Stuttgart, Germany.
His team had been in Mali helping with intelligence exploitation at the time of the incident. After he was wounded, he still managed to help partner forces locate the point from which his element was attacked, according to AFRICOM.
“Wherever you look in Africa, when it’s somewhere tough or dangerous, [U.S. Special Operations Command Africa] is there,” AFRICOM boss Gen. Stephen Townsend said in a news release. “Master Sergeant Corley did what U.S. forces typically do when wounded, stay in the fight until they pass out or are instructed to stand down.”
Corley was medically evacuated the day after he was wounded.
”This has been an amazing rotation in seeing how much the battalion has done for the mission,” Corley said in the press release. “I especially want to thank my family, my battalion, and the staff at Landstuhl [military hospital], especially the rehab team, for doing an amazing job taking care of me.”
French President Emmanuel Macron announced in February that his forces would be pulling out of Mali over the next several months.
France dispatched troops to its former colony in 2013, intervening to force rebels from power in towns across Mali’s north. The French mission, known as Operation Barkhane, since expanded across Africa’s broader Sahel region, including Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania.
Although France was initially invited by the Malian government, relations between the two countries soured after Mali’s military seized power in a coup in 2020 and the French mission failed to make further progress fighting the insurgents.
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter who has covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq.