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3 Green Berets killed in ambush in Niger

NIAMEY, Niger — Three Green Berets were killed and two others were wounded in southwest Niger near the Mali-Niger border when a joint U.S.-Nigerien patrol was attacked Wednesday, officials said.

Two administration officials said the wounded U.S. troops had been evacuated to the capital, Niamey, and would soon be moved to Germany.

They were described by the officials as being in a stable condition. The bodies of the three killed also were evacuated.

Five Nigerien soldiers also were killed in the attack, according to a Nigerien security official.

The officials cautioned that this was still an early assessment. The Green Berets were part of a team advising and assisting local forces when they were attacked.

A U.S. defense official said operations were underway in the area to locate the attackers.

U.S. Africa Command confirmed in a statement Thursday morning that three U.S. service members were killed in the attack and said the names were being withheld pending the notification of next of kin.

“U.S. forces are in Niger to provide training and security assistance to the Nigerien Armed Forces, in their efforts to counter violent extremist organizations in the region,” the statement said.

President Donald Trump was briefed on the attack by by chief of staff John Kelly, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Wednesday night.

The U.S. military has maintained a presence in the northwest African country with small groups of U.S. Special Operations Forces advising local troops as they battle two terrorist groups, the ISIS-affiliated Boko Haram and al-Qaida’s North African branch, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.

Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb has maintained a presence in the Mali-Niger border area despite a multiyear French-led military counterterrorism effort, Operation Barkhane, which began in 2014.

The U.S. military has largely played a supporting role, providing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets in support French forces operating in Mali and Niger.

The French operation involves thousands of French troops as well as forces from Germany, Mali, Niger and other countries in the region.

Wednesday’s attack comes after U.S. drones struck ISIS fighters in neighboring Libya twice in a week in late September.

Those two missions, the first under the Trump administration, suggest U.S. officials have become increasingly concerned that the terror group is regaining strength in Libya.

More than two dozen ISIS fighters were killed in the airstrikes, U.S. Africa Command said.

While the ISIS presence in Libya has been much reduced following a near five-month-long U.S. air campaign against the terror group in the final stretch of the Obama administration, small groups of ISIS fighters had begun to reconstitute themselves in remote desert areas, taking advantage of the lingering instability resulting from the Libyan civil war.