U.S. military troops in Niger repelled an attack in Niger by Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) jihadists in December, months after the terrorist group ambushed a Green Beret-led team in October, killing four American service members, the Pentagon has acknowledged.
Maj. Sheryll Klinkel, a Pentagon spokeswoman, told CNN that “during a mission in the Lake Chad Basin region the morning of Dec. 6, a combined force of Nigerien and US military members came under fire from a formation of violent extremists.”
The U.S. military emphasized that they were forced to retaliate against the jihadists in self-defense, noting that the American troops “were not seeking combat,” reports CNN.
Instead, the focus of the joint American-Nigerien mission was on setting “the conditions for future partner-led operations against violent extremist organizations in the region,” Maj. Klinkel said, adding that “no aspect of this mission focused on pursuing enemy militants.”
“With that said, our forces do operate in unstable areas and are occasionally exposed to danger from enemy forces. When such a situation occurs, our personnel are authorized to respond to threats and violence appropriately,” the Pentagon spokeswoman explained.
The Pentagon revealed that the attackers were part of the ISIS-West Africa wing, described by military officials as an offshoot of Boko Haram.
According to U.S. officials, ISIS was also responsible for the October ambush, which took place in a different part of the country.
The US assesses that 11 militants were killed in the December battle, including two terrorists who were wearing suicide vests. It also said that a weapons cache was destroyed during the mission…Following the October incident some senior members of Congress expressed surprise at the size and scope of the US military presence in Niger.
U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) has launched a probe into the circumstances surrounding the October assault.
Currently, an estimated 800 American troops are serving Niger in a training and advising capacity.
The Pentagon’s acknowledgment that U.S. troops were forced to engage ISIS in Niger comes soon after Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, the head of AFRICOM, told lawmakers the American military “does not have a direct combat mission in Niger,” noting:
Niger is at the crossroads of regional instability: Boko Haram, ISIS-West Africa, ISIS- Greater Sahara, Jamaat Nursat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM), and affiliated extremist groups in the region; spillover from the Mali conflict in the west; instability emanating from Libya to the north; and a large flow of would-be migrants to Europe who converge on Agadez en route to Libya.
Nevertheless, the general stressed that AFRICOM is only providing training and equipment to the Nigerien troops.