IS off­shoot claims ’17 Niger at­tack on US

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - WORLD -

DAKAR, SENE­GAL — An Is­lamic State group off­shoot is claim­ing it car­ried out the Oc­to­ber at­tack in Niger that killed four U.S. sol­diers and four Nige­rien troops 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 al-Sahrawi with the self-pro­fessed IS af­fil­i­ate claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for the Oct. 4 am­bush about 120 miles (200 kilo­me­ters) 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 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 forces when they were at­tacked in a densely wooded area by as many as 50 mil­i­tants trav­el­ing by ve­hi­cle and car­ry­ing small arms and rocket-pro­pelled 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-Qaida 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.

Of­fi­cials have pointed out the dan­ger and dif­fi­culty of hunt­ing down an en­emy in a re­gion the size of Europe.

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.

[AP PHOTO]

From left, Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black, 35, of Puyallup, Wash.; Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. John­son, 39, of Spring­boro, Ohio; Sgt. La David John­son of Mi­ami Gar­dens, Fla.; and Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright, 29, of Lyons, Ga. All four were killed in Niger, when a joint pa­trol of Amer­i­can and Niger forces was am­bushed on Oct. 4, 2017, by mil­i­tants be­lieved linked to the Is­lamic State group.

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