The U.S. military has approximately 6,000 troops across 53 out of 54 countries in Africa, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford told Pentagon reporters Monday.
Dunford’s revelation came during a press conference on the details of an Oct. 4 Islamic State ambush that killed 4 U.S. soldiers deep inside Niger. “The United States military has had forces in Niger, off and on, for more than 20 years,” the chairman revealed, rebutting claims from some U.S. senators that they were unaware of the troop contingent.
Troops in Africa fall under the purview of U.S. Africa Command which is responsible for all military operations on the continent. The U.S. maintains approximately 4,000 personnel at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, 800 in Niger, 400 in Somalia, and smaller contingents in the other countries. Camp Lemonnier is a naval installation predominately focused on aerial and naval support operations.
The U.S. missions in Niger and Somalia predominately focus on supporting local security forces to detail Islamic extremist insurgencies in both countries. Niger is battling ISIS affiliate Boko Haram near the Nigerian border, Islamic State in the Greater Sahara near its border with Mali, along with al-Qaida linked elements in the same region.
U.S. troops in Somalia are both engaged in operational support missions and train, advise, and assist for the Somalian National Army. They also provide planning and assistance in intelligence operations. Approximately half of the U.S. forces are special operators accompanying the Somalian army outside the capital on missions to provide advice and some assistance.
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