The Defense Department has acknowledged U.S. Special Forces partnered with Nigerien troops engaged in a gun battle against Islamic militants in southwest Niger on Dec. 6, 2017.
According to the Pentagon, combined U.S-Nigerien troops killed 11 militants with the ISIS-affiliated Boko Haram group in the skirmish, including two suicide bombers.
Territory in which Boko Haram is known to operate, unconfirmed reports say the purpose of the mission was to sweep the area clear of militants for Niger to construct a military outpost in the region.
The previously undisclosed clash occurred some two months after four U.S. Special Forces operatives were killed by Islamic State Greater Sahara guerrillas in an ambush in Tongo Tongo, Niger.
First reported by The New York Times, the gun battle was revealed in a declassified report prepared for Congress detailing the legality of American troops in the West African nation.
Describing the incident, a United States Africa Command (Africom) statement read:
“During a mission in the Lake Chad Basin region the morning of Dec. 6, a combined force of Nigerien and U.S. military members came under fire from a formation of violent extremists. We assessed 11 enemy killed in action, including two wearing suicide vests, and one weapons cache destroyed during this mission.”
The statement also revealed no U.S. or Nigerien troops involved in the battle were injured and the purpose of the mission did not include pursuing the militants.
The statement also recognized U.S. personnel active in Niger have authorization to engage hostile troops.
The Pentagon’s admission of a second clash with militants in the African country signals a surge in U.S. counterterrorism operations there and in neighboring countries.
Following the Oct. 4 clash in Tongo Tongo, the Defense Department announced it was taking steps to boost security, training and intelligence operations in the Lake Chad Basin as ISIS activity has increased.
“Niger is a country that’s surrounded by problems on all of its borders,” said U.S. Africa commander, Gen. Thomas Waldhauser. “We’re trying to . . . make sure that (Niger is) not taken over by violent extremist organizations who would take over those ungoverned spaces and . . . make plans to do things outside the region in Europe or perhaps in the United States.”
The U.S. recently admitted it has a larde drone base under construction in the country at a cost of $100 million and has 800 troops assisting Nigerien military forces in the country.
[Reuters] [CNN] [Fox News] [Photo courtesy Department of Defense via Task & Purpose]