U.S. SOF team ambushed in Niger 09/10/2017 | Michele Taufer

On October 4th, four United States Army Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) members and one Nigerien Armed Forces soldier were killed in an ambush perpetrated by a new wing of the Islamic State called The Islamic State in Greater Sahara (ISIS-GS), approximately 200 km north of Niamey, in southwest Niger. Two more Green Beret operators and an unknown number of Nigerien were injured in the attack that took place not far from the village of Tongo Tongo that is in a short distance from the State border with Mali and has been reported as a hot spot for jihadist and rebel activity. The ambushed team came from the 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne), the unit which is responsible for the full spectrum of special operations within the AFRICOM area of responsibility and part of the Special Operations Command, Africa (SOCAFRICA). The exact number of the operators of the joint patrol involved in the fight remains unclear, but Special Forces ODA active in the area are normally made up by 12 men plus about 30 Host/Partner Nation troops and is possible they were attacked by an estimated 40-50 strong enemy group. The battle was so intense to cause the French Forces operating in BARKHANE to assist the Green Berets sending troops and helicopters. Since 2013, Green Beret teams are active in Niger to provide Foreign Internal Defense (FID) MA (Military Assistance) to Nigerien military as well as advising Nigerien special troops in conducting direct actions and counter-insurgency (COIN) operations in order to counter violent extremist organizations (VEOs) that frequently conduct cross-border raids in the country starting from the neighbouring Mali. Regarding what happened on October 4th, it’s interesting to note that some sources initially reported the ambush occurred in Mali and were soon after corrected, stating that the incident took place near the border but within Niger. The four SOF operators killed Wednesday are the first U.S. combat casualties since U.S. Forces entered Niger in 2013. The U.S. presence was initially aimed to assist the French effort (operations SERVAL and BARKHANE) to counter terrorism and Tuareg rebels in Mali, providing Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) assets and key logistic capabilities such as aerial refuelling for French MIRAGE and RAFALE warplanes. In the last months, the Green Berets of the 3rd Special Forces Group escalated the level of its commitment in Niger, acting as combat advisers and shifting their role towards a more proactive posture probably conducting sometimes also direct actions (DA). The primary U.S. hub in Niger is inside the country’s Base Aérienne 101, which is attached to Niamey’s International Airport. From Niamey the U.S. Air Force’s 409th Air Expeditionary Group flies MQ-9 REAPERs in order to conduct ISR and strike operations presumably over Libya, Mali and Nigeria. These operations are made in support to the activities of the special task force of U.S. SOF active in the North and West Africa and named Special Operations Command Forward–North and West (SOCFWD-NWA). The 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) is the main force provider of the SOCFWD-NWA and the area of responsibility of the Task Force covers Algeria, Morocco, Libya, Chad, Niger, Nigeria, Mali, Mauritania, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Tunisia and Cameroon.

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