The U.S. military said Friday that a fourth American soldier was killed during an attack by suspected Islamist militants this week in Niger.
Military officials said the soldier went missing after a deadly ambush on Wednesday during a joint U.S.-Niger patrol near Mali. They said the soldier’s body was found by Nigerian forces Friday after an extensive search.
Three other U.S. service members were confirmed dead after the attack. A U.S. defense official told VOA Thursday they were members of the U.S. Army’s special forces, also known as Green Berets.
Information on the fourth soldier was not announced earlier because of an extensive search effort underway, officials said.
Four members of Niger’s security forces were also killed during Wednesday’s attack. Eight Nigerien soldiers and two U.S. troops were wounded.
No claim of responsibility
No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, although U.S. officials say they suspect that a local branch of the Islamic State terror group was responsible.
Mark Cheadle, a spokesman for U.S. Africa Command, said the military would hunt down those responsible for Wednesday’s assault.
“We are resolved and stalwart in our efforts to go after those who attacked this joint patrol,” Cheadle said.
AFRICOM said the attack took place about 200 kilometers north of Niger’s capital, in Niamey, not far from the Niger-Mali border.
Some 12 Americans troops were part of the approximately 40-member U.S.-Niger patrol that, Cheadle said, was trying “to establish relations with local leaders.”
The mission was considered to be “low risk,” Cheadle said. There was “no armed air cover during the engagement,” but unarmed surveillance drones watched overhead, he added.
800 US troops in Niger
Various Islamist militant groups operate in Niger, with Nigeria-based Boko Haram carrying out attacks in eastern Niger and Algeria-based al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) operating in the west along with pockets of Islamic State fighters.
Emmanuelle Lachaussee, an official at the French embassy in Washington, told VOA that French forces helped evacuate the U.S. soldiers after the assault.
The United States has about 800 service members in Niger to provide support for the U.S. embassy and counterterrorism training for government forces battling Islamist militant groups.
Joint Staff Director Lieutenant General Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie Jr. told reporters at the Pentagon Thursday that America has increased its military presence in Niger in recent years, calling the U.S.-Niger military relationship “a very good success story.”
He cautioned, however, that U.S. troops remain at risk during their missions in the African nation, adding that the troops killed on Wednesday died “in combat.”