The United States Africa Command announced Wednesday three American Special Forces operatives were killed and another two were wounded after being ambushed during a routine training mission in southern Niger.
“It was a routine patrol in order to train the Nigerien forces; it was not a raid,” an American official explained.
The three men were the first U.S. troops killed in Niger. Five Nigerien troops were also killed during the joint patrol.
Although the Pentagon did not identify the attackers, it is believed the Special Operations troops, Green Berets, were ambushed by members of the Islamist militant organization Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), an al-Qaeda-linked group which operates in Niger.
The attack occurred 120 miles north of the Nigerien capital of Niamey in the Tillabéri Department, an area in which AQIM operates and frequently conduct cross-border raids into neighboring countries.
The area is also know to be a haven for rogue gangs engaged in kidnapping, smuggling, and drug trafficking.
According to reports, the Green Berets were assisting a 30-man Nigerien detachment and responding to an attack on a small village when the force was drawn into an ambush.
The United States maintains a small contingent of troops serving in an advisory role in Niger. As stated in a June White House letter to Congress, approximately 650 American troops are currently deployed in Niger and another 300 are based in Cameroon.
Both detachments serve in various roles, but a majority are tasked with counterterrorism training and conducting intelligence-gathering operations.
Although the U.S. does not maintain aircraft in Niger, Washington recently embarked on the construction of drone base to assist counterterror operations against Boko Haram and al-Qaeda affliliates in central Africa.
The names of the three servicemen have been withheld until family members are notified.
[Stars and Stripes] [Fox News] [Reuters] [Photo courtesy U.S. Navy]