Three members of the US Special Operations Forces were killed and two others were wounded in southwest Niger near the Mali-Niger border when a joint US-Nigerien patrol was attacked Wednesday.
The administration officials added that the two wounded US troops had been evacuated to the capital, Niamey, and would soon be moved to Germany. They were described by the officials as being in a “stable condition.”
The officials cautioned that this was still an early assessment. The US troops were part of a team advising and assisting local forces when they were attacked.
President Donald Trump was briefed on the attack by chief of staff John Kelly, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Wednesday night.
The US military has maintained a presence in the northwest African country with small groups of US Special Operations Forces advising local troops as they battle two terrorist groups, the ISIS-affiliated Boko Haram and al Qaeda’s North African branch, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb has maintained a presence in the Mali-Niger border area, despite a multi-year French-led military counter terrorism effort, Operation Barkhane, which began in 2014.
The US military has largely played a supporting role, providing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets in support French forces operating in Mali and Niger. The French operation involves thousands of French troops as well as forces from Germany, Mali, Niger and other countries in the region.
“US 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,” Falvo said, adding “one aspect of that is training, advising and assisting the Nigeriens in order to increase their ability to bring stability and security to their people.”
Wednesday’s attack comes after US drones struck ISIS fighters in neighboring Libya twice in a week in late September.
Those two missions, the first under the Trump administration, suggest US officials have become increasingly concerned that the terror group is regaining strength in Libya.
More than two dozen ISIS fighters were killed in the airstrikes, US Africa Command said.
While the ISIS presence in Libya has been much reduced following a near five-month-long US air campaign against the terror group in the final stretch of the Obama administration, small groups of ISIS fighters had begun to reconstitute themselves in remote desert areas, taking advantage of the lingering instability resulting from the Libyan civil war.