Three members of the US Special Operations Forces and five Niger soldiers were killed in an ambush in southwest Niger when they were on a routine mission. Two other US personnel were injured in the attack and are receiving treatment.
The attack took place near the border with Mali and the area, located about 190kms from the Niger capital Niamey, is known to be frequented by Islamists. The troops were not on any special operation or a high-profile raid when they were ambushed by unknown attackers, a US official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
"We can confirm reports that a joint US and Nigerien patrol came under hostile fire in southwest Niger," a spokesperson for the US Africa Command (Africom) confirmed to multiple media outlets. The US and Niger troops were on a joint patrol in the area.
Two wounded soldiers are soon to be moved to Germany for treatment and they are said to be out of danger. "We are working to confirm details of the incident and will have more information as soon as we can confirm facts on the ground," the Africom spokesperson added.
The US military usually releases the identities of deceased soldiers only after informing the victims' families. It is still unclear who was behind the attack. The White House said President Donald Trump has been briefed by Chief of Staff John Kelly regarding the attack.
The US army has been training Niger troops to battle the Islamist insurgency in the region, which is battling the presence of the North African arm of al-Qaeda – al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. According to the New York Times, this is the first time American personnel have been killed in hostile fire since Africom deployed forces in the landlocked Western African nation.