Niger attack highlights US involvement in Africa

THE MERCURY NEWS/ FOREIGN POLICY – PAUL McLEARY

Photo: U.S. Army Special Forces weapons sergeant speaks to a group of Nigerien soldiers/ Spc. Zayid Ballesteros

The ambush that took the lives of three American Special Forces soldiers and wounded two others in Niger on Wednesday highlights the little-noticed but growing American involvement in contested pockets of Africa, where jihadist groups have taken root and Washington is rushing to backstop allies.

Islamic State-linked militants may have been responsible for the ambush, U.S. officials said Thursday.

Wednesday’s attack came after U.S. and Niger forces met with local tribal members about 120 miles north of Niger’s capital, Niamey, near its border with Mali. Two American troops were wounded.

Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou said several of his nation’s soldiers died in the attack, blaming it on Mali-based Islamic extremists near Niger’s village of Tongo-Tongo in the Tillaberi region.

“Our country is once again the target of a terrorist attack, with a large number of victims,” he said.

Some officials originally suspected the attack was the work of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.

But Americans official said Thursday the U.S. now has reason to believe it was extremists affiliated with IS. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the incident publicly.

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