U.S. special operations troops and partner forces killed 11 Islamic State militants in Niger during a previously undisclosed firefight, two months after an ambush claimed the lives of four American soldiers in the same country.
Pentagon officials had kept knowledge of the Dec. 6 battle under wraps until it was first reported by the New York Times on Wednesday. Following TheNYT story, U.S. Africa Command confirmed Thursday that American troops and Niger government forces were on a mission in the country’s Lake Chad Basin region when they were attacked by “a formation of violent extremists.”
Defense officials said militants belonging to the ISIS affiliate in West Africa carried out the assault.
“The purpose of this mission was to set the conditions for future partner-led operations against violent extremist organizations in the region, and based on currently available information, we assessed this attack was launched by ISIS-West Africa,” AFRICOM spokeswoman Samantha Reho said in a statement, according to Stars and Stripes.
The admission of another battle between American troops and ISIS militants provides a fuller picture of how risky counter-terror operations are in Niger, where the U.S. is building a drone base. Though no U.S. or Nigerien troops were harmed in the firefight, it indicates that the deadly Oct. 4 ambush was not an isolated incident.
The earlier battle drew attention to AFRICOM’s operations in Niger, where there are roughly 800 troops deployed. In addition to helping construct the drone base, U.S. troops regularly conduct joint patrols with Nigerien soldiers who are hunting various militant groups.
The U.S. military has been building its presence in Niger for years, but news that four U.S. soldiers had been killed there came as a surprise to many Americans, including lawmakers who claimed not to know the extent of U.S. involvement in the obscure African country. (RELATED: What Exactly Were Green Berets Doing In Niger In The First Place?)
The Dec. 6 firefight occurred while U.S. forces were assisting Nigerien forces near Diffa, a city in southeastern Niger near the border with Nigeria, according to TheNYT’s report, which cited a military official familiar with the events. One of the first missions into the field since the October ambush, the joint operation sought to clear the area of hostile Islamic militants so the Nigeriens could build an outpost there.
The attacks on U.S. forces appear to have prompted military officials to recognize the elevated danger of deployments to Niger. Earlier this month, the Pentagon added Niger to the list of countries where U.S. troops will receive extra danger pay while deployed.
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