Three U.S. Army special operations commandos, colloquially referred to as Green Berets, and five Nigerien soldiers were killed in Niger, adjacent to the border with Mali, according to the Associated Press. Two other U.S. soldiers were injured in the attack that took place near the capital Niamey, according to officials who reported on the incident on condition of anonymity.
An initial attack was launched from Mali into Tongo-Tongo village, according to Radio France Internationale. U.S. and Nigerien forces launched a counter attack, but fell into a trap.
J. Peter Pham, a vice president at the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center in Washington, told The New York Times, “These militants have proven remarkably resilient, exploiting local and/or ethnic grievances to embed themselves into communities as well as political borders and differences to escape capture.”
He added that “It was no accident that this attack took place near Niger’s border with Mali, an area that has seen numerous incidents in recent years,” according to Reuters.
A statement released by the U.S. Africa Command noted that their commandos were participating in a joint Nigerien patrol near the Mali border when they came under “hostile fire,” according to PressTV. It added that they were conducting “training and security assistance” to the Nigerien Armed Forces in order to combat extremists in the region and the U.S. Army continues to provide “support for the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, ISR, efforts” in the region.
While no suspects have been confirmed as the assailants, some officials have suggested that Takfiri members of the so-called al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb may be responsible for the attack.
A spokesman for the U.S. Africa Command told the Washington Post that “We are working to confirm details on the incident and will have more information as soon as we can confirm facts on the ground.”
Hundreds of U.S. soldiers have been deployed across the region, as well as stationed at an air base located in Agadez, as part of the U.S. Africa Command's strategic support to Niger's army.