Niger: Pentagon Blames Islamic State in Deadly Attack on US Forces

American special forces troops, known as Green Berets, had just completed a meeting with local leaders and were walking back to their vehicles when they were attacked, according to a USA official, who spoke to VOA on the condition of anonymity since the investigation is still ongoing.

The soldiers said the meeting ran late, and some suspected that the villagers were intentionally delaying their departure, the official said. One US Army soldier was missing for almost two days before he was finally found by Niger troops around the area where the attack happened.

Mattis, addressing the incident for the first time publicly, said the ambush had taken place in an area where "the enemy has not operated before" and that the patrol had been "hit hard".

As with Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, the dispatch of hundreds of additional US troops to countries like Niger, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Uganda and South Sudan is another instance where President Donald Trump's "America First" rhetoric hasn't kept his administration from being drawn deeper into far-flung war zones.

The U.S. service member's body was discovered by Nigerien forces roughly 48 hours after he went missing, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Friday.

Niger faces threats from Nigeria-based Boko Haram along its southern border and Algeria-based al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb along its porous borders to the west and north. Pockets of Islamic State fighters operate in the west. "And, because the government of Niger has been a strong ally to the counterterrorism efforts, it's been natural for the United States to station its counterterrorism forces in that country", Mueller said. There are now around 800 US military personnel in the African country, and most work on two bases and conduct drone surveillance.

The Pentagon also said it is reevaluating its force protection measures in the region. But he said the U.S. military is reviewing whether changes should be made to these types of training missions in Africa.

"We will look at this and say was there something we have to adapt to now, should we have been in a better stance, you know, autopsy, you always find a lot out in them", Mattis told reporters on board a military plane.

"We are not complacent, we are going to be better", he added.

Mueller, who has traveled and conducted research in Niger, said radicalism in the country is mostly imported from surrounding countries, but that could change.

"It's not guaranteed that that won't change, and there are some hints that especially youth in certain regions of Niger are more receptive to radical recruitment".

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