Deadly am­bush of U.S. troops claimed

IS off­shoot says it was be­hind at­tack that killed 4 Amer­i­cans, 5 oth­ers

The Dallas Morning News - - World -

A group in north­west­ern Africa that is loyal to the Is­lamic State is­sued a state­ment Fri­day claim­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity for the Oc­to­ber at­tack in Niger that killed four U.S. sol­diers who were on pa­trol with Nige­rien forces.

The state­ment of­fered no ex­pla­na­tion for the de­lay in claim­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity for the Oct. 4 at­tack, which U.S. of­fi­cials had said was prob­a­bly car­ried out by the group.

“We de­clare our re­spon­si­bil­ity for the at­tack on the U.S. com­man­dos last Oc­to­ber in the Tongo Tongo re­gion of Niger,” said the state­ment, at­trib­uted to Ad­nan Abu Walid al-Sahraoui, who was a mem­ber of al-Qaeda’s re­gional branch be­fore pledg­ing al­le­giance to the Is­lamic State nearly two years ago.

The state­ment was is­sued to the Nouakchott News Agency, a web­site in Mau­ri­ta­nia to which fighters from al-Sahraoui’s group have pre­vi­ously sent mis­sives.

The as­sault last fall was one of the dead­li­est re­cent at­tacks on U.S. sol­diers in Africa. In ad­di­tion to the four Amer­i­cans, five Nige­rien sol­diers who were with them on a joint mis­sion were killed.

The four Amer­i­cans were Staff Sgt. Bryan Black, 35, of Puyallup, Wash.; Sgt. La David John­son of Mi­ami Gar­dens, Fla.; Staff Sgt. Jeremiah John­son, 39, of Spring­boro, Ohio; and Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright, 29, of Lyons, Ga.

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

A 12-mem­ber Army Spe­cial Forces unit was ac­com­pa­ny­ing 30 Nige­rien sol­diers when they were at­tacked in a densely wooded area by as many as 50 mil­i­tants trav­el­ing by ve­hi­cle and car­ry­ing small arms and rock­et­pro­pelled grenade launch­ers.

The U.S. has about 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 vast 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.

In its state­ment sent to the web­site, al-Sahraoui’s group also claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for an at­tack on a con­voy of French troops in Mali on Thurs­day, which the French mil­i­tary said wounded three sol­diers, ac­cord­ing to Reuters.

BRYAN BLACK

JEREMIAH JOHN­SON

LA DAVID JOHN­SON

DUSTIN WRIGHT

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