While on a training mission in Niger with their local counterparts, a U.S. Army Special Forces (the “Green Berets”) unit from the 3rd Special Forces Group (Fort Bragg, NC) was ambushed on Wednesday. The ambush occurred near the border with Mali, 120 miles north of Niamey, the capital of Niger. The attack left three Green Berets dead and two wounded; in addition, five Nigerien soldiers were killed. The U.S. soldiers were brought to Niamey for medical treatment and will be transferred to Germany for further care. The names of the soldiers have not yet been released.
Niger is in north-central Africa and is bordered by Mali, Algeria, Libya, Chad, Nigeria, Benin, and Burkina Faso. The Sahara Desert covers most of the country. The United States has been providing counterterrorism training to Niger’s military.
No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, but there are a number of militant Islamic and terrorist groups active in the area, including Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Boko Haram.
While AQIM’s aim is to establish an Islamic caliphate in Algeria, it has supporters in Mali and has conducted raids into Niger. Boko Haram (“Group of the People of Sunnah for Preaching and Jihad”) spans Niger, Chad, Nigeria, and Cameroon. These groups, in addition to other Islamic terrorist organizations in the region such as al-Shabaab in Somalia, work together to advance their causes. Interestingly, they – along with al Qaeda itself – also come into conflict with ISIS due to differences of opinion concerning tactics and leadership.
The United States military is very active in Africa in an effort to train local friendly governments to fight against these terrorist groups. Special forces are typically tasked with these missions, as training is one of their core skills. The U.S. is also constructing a large drone base at Agadez in central Niger to help with the region’s counter-terrorism fight.