4 Niger soldiers, 3 U.S. commandos killed in attack

They’re struck by Islamic extremists in African country

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NIAMEY, Niger — Four Nigerian soldiers and three U.S. Army special operations commandos were killed and others were wounded in an attack by Islamic extremists while on a joint patrol in Niger’s southwest, officials said Thursday.

The attack Wednesday by Mali-based militants in Niger’s Tillaberi region wounded eight Niger soldiers and two U.S. soldiers, according to a statement by Niger’s Army Chief of Staff.

“A joint patrol of the Defense and Security Forces and American partners operating in the border area of Mali fell into an ambush set by terrorist elements aboard a dozen vehicles and about twenty motorcycles,” the statement said. The deaths and injuries came “after intense fighting, during which elements of the joint force showed exemplary courage.”

The statement welcomed “the constant commitment of the American partners in the fight against terrorism.”

Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou and the U.S. Ambassador to Niger Eunice S. Reddik met before Issoufou presided over a meeting of the National Security Council made up of senior officers and ministers.

“Our country is once again the target of a terrorist attack, with a large number of victims,” Niger’s president said earlier Thursday.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack about 124 miles north of Niger’s capital, Niamey. However, Islamic extremist groups, including al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, operate in the region and sporadically launch cross-border raids. Despite the intervention of French troops in 2013 that pushed the extremists from their strongholds in northern Mali, they continue attacks.

Boko Haram, based south in Nigeria, has also staged several attacks in Niger near its border.

U.S. Africa Command said the U.S. forces are in Niger to provide training and security assistance to the Nigerian Armed Forces in their efforts against violent extremists.

The two wounded U.S. service members were evacuated in stable condition to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, U.S. Africa Command said in its statement.

The commandos, who were Green Berets, were likely attacked by al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb militants, said U.S. officials.

The White House said President Donald Trump was notified about the attack Wednesday night as he flew aboard Air Force One from Las Vegas to Washington.