US Special Forces troops reportedly took part in a previously undisclosed firefight in Niger, two months after a battle that killed four US soldiers in October 2017.
The undisclosed firefight on Dec. 6, 2017, first reported by The New York Times, was between a coalition of US-Nigerien troops and a group believed to have been Islamic State militants.
Eleven militants were reportedly killed and no coalition forces were killed or wounded, according to US Africa Command spokeswoman Samantha Reho. She added that two of the militants were wearing suicide vests.
"The purpose of the mission was to set the conditions for future partner-led operations against violent extremist organizations in the region," Reho said in The Times. "There was no aspect of this mission focused on pursuing enemy militants, and the combined force was postured to respond as necessary in case contact with the enemy occurred."
But according to an anonymous military official familiar with the incident, the mission was to sweep through a potentially dangerous area so that Nigerien troops would be able to build an outpost.
Though Reho did not disclose why the Defense Department did not notify others of the incident, a House Republican aide told The Times that other lawmakers were notified of the December 2017 attack after it occurred.
A US Army Special Forces weapons sergeant and a Nigerien soldier. (Photo by Spc. Zayid Ballesteros)
Lawmakers previously pressured the White House and Pentagon for more information on the circumstances surrounding the ambush in October 2017, after military officials appeared to leave several congressional leaders in the dark.
"That's not how the system works," Sen. John McCain of Arizona said to CNN in October 2017. "We're coequal branches of government. We should be informed at all times."
The firefight was initially referenced in an unclassified report given to lawmakers this week as part of a broader report on the legality of using military force, according to The Times. The report notes that US-Nigerien troops were attacked "by elements assessed to be part of ISIS," and that coalition forces "responded with armed force in self-defense."
US Army Brig. Gen. Donald C. Bolduc, the former commander of US Special Operations in Africa, said that US troops and local training partners were attacked around 10 times from 2015 to 2017, The Times reported. Though enemy combatants were killed in these attacks, no US troops were reportedly killed.
The incident highlights some of the danger in conducting military operations in West Africa, just as military officials aim to curb the number of riskier missions. US Army Staff Sgt. Bryan Black, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson, Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright, and Sgt. La David Johnson were killed in October 2017 after they were ambushed by ISIS-affiliated militants.