The three U.S. Army special forces soldiers, whose death in the Niger ambush was first announced, were identified by the Pentagon earlier on Friday. They all served with the 3rd Special Forces Group based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, though not all were Green Berets.
Staff Sgt. Bryan Black, 35, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson, 39, and Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright, 29, died from wounds sustained during the ambush that occurred near Niger’s border with Mali about 125 miles north of Niamey, Niger’s capital.
They were among a squad of 10 to 12 U.S. soldiers on a joint patrol with Nigerien soldiers who came under attack by a force of 50 enemy fighters. It’s unclear which group ambushed the joint U.S.-Nigerien patrol because various extremist groups operate along the Niger-Mali border area, including Ansar Dine, an al Qaeda-affiliated extremist group, and ISIS-West Africa.
Two other soldiers were wounded in the incident and are receiving medical treatment at a U.S. Army hospital in Germany.
BOTTOM RIGHT PHOTO: Staff Sgt. Bryan Black of Puyallup, Washington, who enlisted in the Army in October 2009, was a Green Beret serving as a Special Forces medical sergeant. His awards and decorations includes the Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Special Forces Tab, Ranger Tab, Parachutist Badge, Air Assault Badge, and Marksmanship Qualification Badge – Sharpshooter with Rifle.
TOP RIGHT PHOTO: Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright, 29, of Lyons, Ga. is pictured in an undated handout image released by the US Army on Oct. 6, 2017.US Army
Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright, 29, of Lyons, Ga. is pictured in an undated handout image released by the US Army on Oct. 6, 2017.more +
Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright of Lyons, Georgia, enlisted in the Army in July 2012 and was a Green Beret serving as a Special Forces engineer sergeant. His awards and decorations included the Joint Service Achievement Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Special Forces Tab, and Parachutist Badge.
LEFT PHOTO: Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, 39, of Springboro, Ohio is pictured in an undated handout image released by the US Army on Oct. 6, 2017.US Army
Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, 39, of Springboro, Ohio is pictured in an undated handout image released by the US Army on Oct. 6, 2017.more +
Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson of Springboro, Ohio, enlisted in the Army in October 2007 and served as a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear specialist attached to the Green Beret unit.
His awards includes the Army Commendation Medal (2nd Award), Army Achievement Medal (5th Award), Army Good Conduct Medal (3rd Award), National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Armed Forces Service Ribbon, Noncommissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon, Army Service Ribbon, Parachutist Badge, Air Assault Badge, Driver and Mechanic Badge, and Marksmanship Qualification Badge – Expert with Pistol and Rifle.
There are about 800 U.S. military personnel in Niger helping that country’s counter terrorism efforts against extremist groups. Some of the U.S. forces are part of a drone surveillance mission over Mali that operates out of two bases in Niger.
Others are involved in a training-and-advising mission with Niger’s military to improve its counter terrorism capabilities.
4th U.S. Army Special Forces Soldier killed In Niger, US Military Confirms
The U.S. military said today, Friday, that a fourth U.S. soldier was killed during an attack this week in Niger. They said the soldier’s body was found Friday after an extensive search. Military officials said the soldier went missing after a deadly ambush on Wednesday during a joint U.S.-Niger patrol.
Three other U.S. soldiers were already confirmed dead after the attack. A U.S. defense official told VOA on Thursday that the soldiers killed were members of the U.S. Army Special Forces, also known as Green Berets.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, although U.S. officials say they suspect that a local branch of Islamic State was responsible.
Niger’s army said the joint patrol of U.S. and Nigerien soldiers was ambushed by 40 to 50 militants in vehicles and on motorcycles. AFRICOM said the attack took place about 200 kilometers north of Niger’s capital, Niamey, not far from the Niger-Mali border.
Four members of Nigerien security forces were also killed during Wednesday’s attack. Eight Nigerien soldiers and two U.S. troops were wounded.
Various Islamist militant groups operate in Niger, with Nigeria-based militants 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, said 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 Wednesday died “in combat.”
3 U.S. Army Special Forces Troops killed In Niger Ambush
“We can confirm reports that a joint U.S. and Nigerien patrol came under hostile fire in southwest Niger,” said a spokesman.for U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM). Five soldiers from Niger and three U.S. Army Special Forces troops were killed and two wounded in an ambush on a joint patrol in southwest Niger, near the Niger/Mali border, on Wednesday, according to Nigerien and U.S. officials.
The five Green Berets were attacked while on a routine patrol in an area known to have a presence of campainers, including from al-Qaida in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Islamic State, a U.S. official told reporters.
It was unclear who fired on the U.S. and U.S.-backed forces, the official said. Those forces were not patrolling the area with any specific objective, such as a high-value target or rescuing a hostage, the official added.
Namatta Abubacar, an official for the region of Tillaberi in Niger, said five Nigerien soldiers were among the dead.
A Niger diplomatic source said the attackers had come from Mali and had killed several soldiers, without saying whether any of the U.S. troops stationed in the West African country were among the victims.
U.S. President Donald Trump was briefed by telephone on the attack by White House Chief of Staff John Kelly while Trump flew back on Air Force One from Las Vegas, where he had been visiting victims and first responders affected by Sunday’s mass shooting.
RFI said earlier on Wednesday a counter-attack was underway.
African security forces backed by Western troops are stepping up efforts to counter jihadist groups forming part of a growing regional campain in the poor, sparsely populated deserts of the Sahel.
A relatively new militant group called Islamic State in the Greater Sahara has claimed some of the attacks.
Geoff D. Porter, head of North Africa Risk Consulting, said that any confirmation of Islamic State’s role in Wednesday’s strike would lead to a strategic shift from Libya towards the Sahel band, stretching eastwards from Senegal to Chad.
“The emphasis … will now shift south,” he said.
U.S. officials said the soldiers, all Green Berets, were likely attacked by al Qaeda militants
The U.S. Africa Command has hundreds of soldiers deployed across the region, including at an air facility in Agadez, and offers training and support to Niger’s army in aspects such as intelligence gathering and surveillance.
U.S. Africa Command Statement on Situation in Niger:
“U.S. Africa Command can confirm reports that a joint U.S. and Nigerien patrol came under hostile fire in southwest Niger. We are working to confirm details on the incident and will have more information as soon as we can confirm facts on the ground.
U.S. Forces are in Niger to provide training and security assistance to the Nigerien Armed Forces, including support for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) efforts, in their efforts to target violent extremist organizations in the region. One aspect of that is training, advising and assisting the Nigeriens in order to increase their ability to bring stability and security to their people.”