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The Facts —
- A fourth US Army Special Operations Forces soldier was confirmed dead in Niger, Africa on 6 October by the Pentagon, according to Reuters.
- Three troops were previously confirmed killed on 4 October in an ambush during a training exercise in Niger, while two others were injured during the surprise attack, according to a statement released on 5 October the the US Africa Command (US AFRICOM) Public Affairs department.
- The names of the three previously confirmed killed US commandos were released by the Pentagon on 6 October. The three named fallen soldiers, all assigned to 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne), Fort Bragg, North Carolina, were:
- Staff Sgt. Bryan Black, 35, of Puyallup, Washington,
- Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson, 39, of Springboro, Ohio,
- Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright, 29, of Lyons, Georgi.
- The fourth fallen soldier has not yet been named pending notification of next of kin, according to Reuters.
- The US AFRICOM statement released on 5 October said:
“Additionally, two US service members were injured and evacuated in stable condition to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.”
“[At the time of the attack] the US was providing advice and assistance to Nigerien security force counter-terror operations, approximately 200 km [about 120 miles] north of Niamey, in southwest Niger.”
- Reuters reported that the Niger Armed Forces said the joint patrol was “ambushed by militants riding in a dozen vehicles and on about 20 motorcycles near the village of Tongo Tongo.”
- One “partner nation” service member was also killed, according to the statement.
- US armed forces are in the region to combat terrorism.
- US AFRICOM began initial operations on 1 October 2007 and officially became fully operational capable one year later on 1 October 2008.
The Context —
- The ambush occurred near the border with Mali, where cross-border raids have been conducted by militants with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, an affiliate of Al Qaeda, according to The New York Times.
- The US AFRICOM explained US presence in Niger in a statement released on 5 October:
“US Forces are in Niger to provide training and security assistance to the Nigerien Armed Forces, in their efforts to counter violent extremist organizations in the region.”
- There are about 800 American military personnel currently active in Niger, with that number including a few dozen Army Special Forces charged with training and advising local soldiers, and about 450 American troops who operate and support drone missions from the African country, The Times reported.
- Peter Pham, director of the Atlantic Council’s Africa Program, explained the US’s role in Africa to PBS Newshour’s Judy Woodruff:
“We have for several years now had varying numbers, low several hundreds, US personnel in Niger doing two things primarily, one, operating a drone base in Niamey, the capital of Niger, and building another drone base in Agadez, in the center of the country, which will be able to reach surveillance into Mali and Southern Libya.
“And the other mission has been training the Nigerien forces to stand up and fight these militants, as you mentioned, from both al-Qaida-linked groups and Islamic State-linked groups that have been crossing in this region and increasingly carrying out violent attacks.”
- Pham said French troops are also involved in efforts to prepare Nigerien forces to combat “various Islamic extremists,” but engaging in combat is not the goal or purpose of the US, saying:
“The Nigerien troops in Niger — and, of course, the French have a large training and antiterrorism mission across the region, but very active in Mali as well. And so it’s a training mission, but it’s also providing ISR, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, to the allied governments in the region as well.
“But, primarily, it’s training. There — certainly, when you are out training with these allies, there will be occasions where you enter into kinetic operations with them, but that is not the primary focus.”
- Pham described the extremist groups present in Niger as follows:
“[The extremists are organized] roughly in two broad coalitions, one that was announced just this past March that is calling itself the Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims, GSIM, in the region, which is made up of al-Qaeda-linked groups, including those linked with the ethnic Tuareg, with ethnic Fula or Fulani, as well as former members of the Al-Mourabitoun, which is Mokhtar Belmokhtar’s group, as well as members of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s Sahara battalion.
“And on the other side, we have this group that is calling itself Islamic State Greater Sahara, which was approved last year by the so-called caliph of the Islamic State.”
US AFRICOM Leadership and Personnel —
- US AFRICOM is comprised of about 2,000 assigned personnel, including military, US federal civilian employees, and US contractor employees, according to the US AFRICOM website.
- About 1,500 are stationed at the command’s headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany;
- Others are assigned to units at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, and RAF Molesworth, United Kingdom;
- “The command’s programs in Africa are coordinated through Offices of Security Cooperation and Defense Attaché Offices in approximately 38 nations;”
- “The command also has liaison officers at key African posts, including the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping and Training Centre in Ghana.”
- The US AFRICOM website explained:
- “US AFRICOM is one of six of the US Defense Department’s geographic combatant commands and is responsible to the Secretary of Defense for military relations with African nations, the African Union, and African regional security organizations. A full-spectrum combatant command, U.S. AFRICOM is responsible for all U.S. Department of Defense operations, exercises, and security cooperation on the African continent, its island nations, and surrounding waters.”
- The current leadership of US AFRICOM consists of:
- Commander General Thomas D Waldhauser, US Marine Corps;
- Command Senior Enlisted Leade: Chief Master Sergeant Ramon “CZ” Colon-Lopez, US Air Force;
- Deputy to the Commander for Military Operations Lt Gen James C Vechery, US Air Force;
- Deputy to the Commander for Civil-Military Engagement Ambassador Alexander M Laskaris, US Department of State; and
- Headquarters Chief of Staff Major General Roger L. Cloutier, Jr, US Army.
Stephanie Haney contributed to this report.