Suspected Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) jihadists have reportedly carried out a sort of drive-by shooting assault early this month in Niger, killing four American troops and injuring two others in an attack that marks the first American combat casualties in the country, reports the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD).
Moreover, the ISIS terrorists also killed four Niger troops and wounded eight others during the same wretched incident on October 4, near the village of Tongo Tongo in Niger’s Tillaberi region, according to Voice of America (VOA).
Acknowledging that the attack “is the first time American forces have been killed and wounded in combat in the country” of Niger, Dana White, a Pentagon spokesperson, revealed that the October 4 casualties took place “while conducting a mission in support of Nigerien security forces in the southwestern part of the country.”
The Pentagon identified the fallen soldiers as Army Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black, 35, of Puyallup, Washington; Army Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, 39, of Springboro, Ohio; and Army Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright, 29, of Lyons, Georgia.
Reuters reports, “From initial accounts, the 40-member patrol, which included about a dozen U.S. troops, came under a swift attack by [ISIS] militants riding in a dozen vehicles and on about 20 motorcycles.”
The United States is determined to go after the jihadists who carried out the heinous attack, Army Col. Mark Cheadle, a spokesman for U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), said last week.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon suggested it is considering re-evaluating U.S. troops’ force protection measures in Africa.
U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis utterly rejected claims that the response to aid the wounded failed to save lives because it took too long to arrive.
“I would not characterize it that they were slow, but that doesn’t change your point that we need to go in, look at this. We’re not complacent,” he said. “We’re going to be better.”
Mattis did concede that the attack on the American troops caught them by surprise.
The ambush took place in territory where “the enemy has not operated before,” he noted, adding that the patrol had been “hit hard.”
U.S. Army Special Forces had just completed a meeting with local [Nigerien] leaders and were walking back to their vehicles when they were attacked, according to a U.S. official, who spoke to VOA on the condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing.
Meanwhile, U.S. Army Lt. Col. Michelle Baldanza, a spokesman for the Pentagon, also confirmed to VOA that suspected ISIS terrorists “ambushed” American and Nigerien troops — a testament to the active and dangerous U.S. counterterrorism mission in the West African country.
In Niger, the ISIS-perpetrated attack has thrown a spotlight on the U.S. counterterrorism mission in the West African country, prompting the United States to consider changes in light of the ambush.
Currently, U.S. forces are not directly engaged in a combat mission in Niger, but they do provide the West African country’s army with much-needed assistance, including intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance in their fight against jihadists in the region.
Despite losing its so-called caliphate in Iraq and Syria, ISIS is once again expanding its presence in Libya and Afghanistan, the latter being home to the largest concentration of jihadists in the world.
Lisa Mueller, an assistant professor of political science at Macalester College in Minnesota, indicated to VOA, “Niger is a key U.S. ally in the fight against terrorism and is situated in a dangerous region of the Sahel plagued by multiple extremist groups and traffickers.”
Currently, there are about 800 American troops deployed to Niger to provide support for the U.S. Embassy and counterterrorism training for local forces combating jihadists.
ISIS affiliate Boko Haram is not confined to its base in Nigeria and also operates in the Lake Chad region area — Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon, and Chad.
“Niger faces threats from Nigeria-based Boko Haram along its southern border and Algeria-based al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb along its porous borders to the west and north. Pockets of Islamic State fighters operate in the west,” reports Reuters.
The United States has provided hundreds of millions to the Multinational Joint Task Force — which includes Cameroon, Nigeria, Chad, Niger, and Benin — to combat terrorism.