Is­lamic State af­fil­i­ate claims 2017 attack on U.S. troops

San Francisco Chronicle - - WORLD -

An Is­lamic State group off­shoot is claim­ing it car­ried out the attack in Niger that killed four U.S. sol­diers and four Nige­rien troops in Oc­to­ber and sparked ques­tions about U.S. mil­i­tary in­volve­ment in West Africa’s vast Sa­hel re­gion.

The Mau­ri­ta­nian Nouak­chott News Agency re­ported Fri­day that Abu al-Walid alSahrawi with the self-pro­fessed af­fil­i­ate claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for the Oct. 4 am­bush about 120 miles north of Niger’s cap­i­tal, Ni­amey. The news agency has car­ried mes­sages from the af­fil­i­ate be­fore, ac­cord­ing to the SITE In­tel­li­gence Group, which mon­i­tors ji­hadist web­sites.

The U.S. Africa Com­mand has been in­ves­ti­gat­ing the Oc­to­ber attack, which also wounded two U.S. and eight Nige­rien troops, and a fi­nal report is ex­pected to be re­leased this month.

A 12-mem­ber Army spe­cial forces unit had been ac­com­pa­ny­ing 30 Nige­rien forces when they were at­tacked in a wooded area by as many as 50 mil­i­tants trav­el­ing by ve­hi­cle and car­ry­ing small arms and rock­et­pro­pelled grenade launch­ers.

The Pen­tagon has de­clined to re­lease de­tails about the com­mando team’s ex­act mis­sion. U.S. of­fi­cials have said the joint U.S.-Niger pa­trol had been asked to as­sist a sec­ond Amer­i­can com­mando team hunt­ing for a senior Is­lamic State group mem­ber. The team had been asked to go to a lo­ca­tion where the in­sur­gent had last been seen.

Af­ter com­plet­ing that mis­sion, the troops stopped in a vil­lage to get food and wa­ter, then left. The U.S. mil­i­tary be­lieves some­one in the vil­lage may have tipped off the at­tack­ers.

The U.S. has ap­prox­i­mately 800 troops in Niger, and U.S. spe­cial op­er­a­tions forces have been work­ing with Niger’s forces in a grow­ing ef­fort in re­cent years, help­ing them to im­prove their abil­i­ties to fight ex­trem­ists.

Mul­ti­ple mil­i­tary ef­forts ex­ist against ex­trem­ist groups, in­clud­ing Boko Haram and al Qaeda af­fil­i­ates, that roam the Sa­hel, the sprawl­ing, largely bar­ren zone south of the Sa­hara desert. The grow­ing fight in­cludes France’s largest over­seas mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion, a United Na­tions peace­keep­ing mis­sion in Mali and a five-na­tion re­gional force called the G5 Sa­hel that launched last year.

The Mau­ri­ta­nian news agency also re­ported that the ex­trem­ists claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for an attack Thurs­day on a French mil­i­tary con­voy, and for a series of at­tacks in Niger and bor­der ar­eas with Mali and Burk­ina Faso.

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