The United States confirmed Friday that a fourth member of its military was killed in Niger during an attack, which targeted a joint patrol of Nigerien soldiers and American special forces personnel.
“The body of another US service member has been recovered from the site of the attack,” the US Africa Command (Africom) said, raising an earlier toll of three Americans dead.
Four Nigerien soldiers and another person from an unidentified country were also killed Wednesday in what Niger’s defence ministry described as an “ambush”.
It took place in southwest Niger near the Malian border, where armed jihadists are known to operate.
Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou said on Thursday that the ambush was the latest attack on his country by “terrorist groups”, and that it “has sadly resulted in a large number of casualties”.
A French military spokesman said his country’s helicopters had evacuated wounded from the scene and that warplanes were sent to the area in a show of force but did not drop any munitions to avoid hitting forces on the ground.
The clash confirmed the little-known presence of US troops in the turbulent area, part of the poor and politically fragile Sahel where jihadist groups are mounting an insurgency.
“US Forces are in Niger to provide training and security assistance to the Nigerien Armed Forces, in their efforts to counter violent extremist organisations in the region,” Africom said.
Under the name Operation Barkhane, France maintains a 4,000-man mission in the region to shore up fragile Sahel countries against jihadists who have carried out a wave of bloody bombings, shootings and kidnappings.