Mali – Islamist militants ‘taken out of action’ in Mali, says French military

The operation involved French Mirage jets, attack helicopters and forces on the ground, the spokesman said, although he would not provide details on how many of the 15 militants targeted had been killed or wounded.

France intervened in Mali to ward off an offensive by islamist militants that began in 2012. Around 4,000 of its troops remain in  the region as part of Operation Barkhane, where they work alongside 10,000 U.N peacekeepers in  Mali.

France 24 / Reuters

Niger – US Now Moving Toward Armed Drones, lethal Force in Niger

NBC  – The Trump administration is paving the way for lethal strikes against terrorists in Niger as the U.S. military pushes forward with a plan to arm the Reaper drones that fly over that country, multiple U.S. officials told NBC News.

France has already decided to arm its drones in the region, U.S. documents show, and the move to arm U.S. Reapers has been under consideration for some time — long before this month’s ambush of a Green Beret unit that resulted in the deaths of four American soldiers. But that incident, details of which are still coming to light, is fueling an urgency within the Trump administration to take more aggressive steps against the terrorist groups that are operating in North and West Africa, according to intelligence and military officials.

In the wake of the attack, the U.S. has been pressing the government of Niger to allow armed drones at the U.S. bases in that country, three U.S. officials said.

Beset by poverty, weak governance and insurgent movements, the African region that includes Niger and neighboring Mali is considered by U.S. officials to be a fertile recruiting ground for Al Qaeda and ISIS. U.S. officials believe the militants who ambushed the Green Berets belong to a group that has pledged allegiance to ISIS. President Barack Obama declined to allow armed drones to fly over the region, but the military has been pressing for some time to reverse that decision, officials said.

A move to expand U.S. drone strikes to Niger would amount to a significant escalation in American counterterrorism operations. There have been occasional U.S. drone strikes reported in Libya and Somalia, but most of Africa has not been part of the U.S. drone war, which has focused on Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Iraq and Syria.

« It demonstrates that the U.S. is expanding its use of lethal force … in the war on terror, » said Juan Zarate, a former Bush administration counterterrorism adviser and NBC News analyst. “It also demonstrates that the war on terror is migrating. »Col. Rob Manning, a Defense Department spokesman, said he would not comment on « possible initiatives by the administration, » but « the Department of Defense will always ensure our forces are properly equipped and have the necessary capabilities to accomplish their mission and defeat any threat. »

The Green Berets who were ambushed were on a counterterrorism mission, multiple U.S. officials told NBC News — a mission more complex than previously understood. The Green Berets had been tracking a militant in support of a second, more secretive American special operations team operating in the area, intelligence and military officials said.

                    The hearse carrying the body of the US Army Sergeant La David Johnson passes in a procession after his funeral at Christ the Rock Church in Cooper City, Florida, on October 21, 2017. Cristobnal Herrera / EPA

The second team was described by the officials as a joint U.S.-French intelligence collection unit, working with Nigerien forces, that had been gathering information on terrorist organizations in Niger. That team had been using an unarmed Reaper drone, which was rushed to the site of the Oct. 4 ambush within minutes of the first team’s call for help, according to multiple officials.

The officials said the second team, which included both military and civilian personnel, did not send soldiers to help repel the attack on the first team. It’s unclear why.

The presence of a second team underscores the multilayered nature of the Niger mission, and may explain the difficulty the Pentagon still has in answering basic questions about what went wrong three weeks after the incident.

The team of Green Berets and other Army soldiers were operating openly, as part of a mission to advise and assist Nigerien forces who are battling Islamic extremists who have murky affiliations — some to Al Qaeda, some to ISIS.

The second team was a clandestine unit of the Joint Special Operations Command, and was operating in both Niger and Mali, where the French have a major presence, officials said.

Image: A U.S. special forces soldier demonstrates how to detain a suspect during Flintlock 2014, a U.S.-led international training mission for African militaries, in Diffa, Niger March 4, 2014.

A U.S. special forces soldier demonstrates how to detain a suspect during Flintlock 2014, a U.S.-led international training mission for African militaries, in Diffa, Niger March 4, 2014. Joe Penney / Reuters

Military and intelligence officials confirmed to NBC News that one role of the joint intelligence-gathering mission is to prepare for lethal operations, which could begin with President Donald Trump’s authorization once the U.S. and French Reapers in Niger are armed. At the moment, none of the drones in Niger are.

Pentagon officials say U.S. forces in Niger do not currently have a combat role.

Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters this week that the Green Berets who were ambushed had been on a reconnaissance mission. But a U.S. military official with first-hand knowledge of the investigation told NBC News the team’s mission changed at some point, and that it was asked to track a specific militant, described as a recruiter with ties to Al Qaeda and ISIS. Another source said the Americans were tracking his cellphone.

After patrolling overnight, the Green Beret team stopped in the village of Tongo Tongo, and — as NBC News reported Monday — military investigators say they suspect village residents tipped off extremists about the location of the Americans. The 12-person team was ambushed shortly after leaving the village on its way back to the Nigerien capital of Niamey, Dunford said.

During the ambush — which unfolded at two separate locations as the Americans fought back and maneuvered — Sgt. La David Johnson became separated from the unit, and was not evacuated with rest of the team.The Pentagon sent in elite units to try to rescue him, officials said.

« They moved heaven and earth, » one U.S. intelligence official said. « They brought assets in from everywhere, including stateside (Special Forces) elements. »

There are some 800 U.S. troops in Niger, and while Congress has been notified in writing about their various missions, many lawmakers have complained that they have not been given a full, plain-language understanding of what the U.S. objectives are in the country, and in that part of Africa in general.


A French soldier with France’s Barkhane counterterrorism mission patrols on March 12, 2016 in Mali. The mission included at least 3,500 soldiers deployed across five countries — Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad and Burkina Faso — with a mandate to combat jihadist insurgencies in the region. Pascal Guyot / AFP – Getty Images file

Among the targets of intelligence collection around Tongo Tongo, NBC News reported Tuesday, was the immediate circle of leadership surrounding a militant named Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahraoui, a veteran insurgent originally from Laayoune in Western Sahara, according to two U.S. military officials. »We can’t discuss specific targeting details for operational security reasons, » an official from Special Operations Command Africa told NBC News.

Al-Sahraoui is affiliated with the insurgent group Al-Mourabitoun, which was led for many years by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, aka the « Marlboro Man. » Belmokhtar has been reported killed numerous times, most recently in Libya in June 2015 from a U.S. airstrike.

« These groups in West Africa have been brutal in their campaigns, not just in their attacks against security forces, but also against hotels, against civilian sites, » Zarate said. « I think the concern in the U.S. is that this is another jihadi playground where if they are not contained early, if they are not fought off, this this is a problem that can metastasize and grow more regionally and more globally in terms of the threat.

NBC News

Niger – First Niger Reports Listed several soldiers missing

First Niger Reports Listed several soldiers missing

Hours after they first learned of a deadly ambush on U.S. forces in Niger, senior officials in the White House believed that several American soldiers may have been missing, according to a senior official familiar with the operation.The White House did not officially receive word that three American bodies had been recovered, and one soldier remained missing, until at least eight hours after the attack had begun on the morning of Oct. 4, Washington time.

President Donald Trump was given updates throughout the day but was not given a full brief on the situation by his chief of staff, John Kelly, until the following morning.

« The initial report was more than one person missing and a number of people wounded, » the official said. « It was very confusing. »

The confusion and delays in receiving and transmitting information between field commanders, through the U.S. Africa Command in Germany, to the Pentagon and then to the White House, underscores the chaotic nature of the firefight. More broadly, it illustrates the difficulty of determining facts on faraway battlefields. In this case, the lack of firm information over so long a period was especially striking to those on the receiving end.

« My whole life, I’ve never seen something like that happen, » the senior official said of the scramble to determine how many soldiers were missing or dead. « I was dumbfounded by it. »

Nearly three weeks later, Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on Monday described the deadly Niger attack as a « very complex situation. »

It remains unclear how long it took before officials at the Pentagon and U.S. Africa Command fully understood what had happened and confirmed that one soldier remained missing. Once that was clear, Pentagon officials that evening ordered the deployment of U.S.-based elite commando units to look for Sgt. La David Johnson, an Army mechanic. Johnson was attached to the Niger-based Special Operations unit that had come under attack.

It is unknown whether the commandos participated in the search for Johnson, whose body was eventually recovered and turned over to U.S. forces by Nigerien troops on Oct. 6, two days after the attack.

U.S. officials expressed skepticism that Johnson, alive or dead, was ever in the hands of the attacking enemy force, a local group believed to be affiliated with the Islamic State. « I suspect that he got separated » from the rest of the unit and was killed, the official said. « I strongly doubt he was captured by the enemy. » Administration and Washington-based defense officials who discussed the attack and the administration response spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters.

Trump, who made no public comment about the deaths until more than a week after they occurred, said Wednesday that he did not « specifically » authorize the original mission, which officials have described as a routine reconnaissance tour by troops based in Niger to train local forces. The 12-man U.S. unit, accompanying about 30 Nigerien soldiers, traveled two hours by land to the village of Tongo Tongo, in the southwest corner of Niger, on Oct 3. The next morning, they spoke with village elders and began the trip back to their base.U.S. officials are still probing exactly how the travelers were ambushed, became separated on the battlefield and apparently lost communication with each other. The team did not contact its commanders in Niamey for an hour after the attack began.

Two U.S. military officials said Johnson may have lost contact with his unit because they were ambushed twice in succession by the militants. That detail, first reported by NBC News, may explain the delayed call for assistance. Five Nigerien soldiers were also killed.

Dunford speculated that the troops delayed the request for help because they initially thought they had the situation under control.

U.S. officials, who have said that a U.S. surveillance drone was overhead during the incident, described a scene in which small elements of U.S. and Nigerien troops were firing and maneuvering for cover under the enemy assault. « I personally think the American and Nigerien force was just overwhelmed, » the administration official said. « They met up with a pretty serious, professional force. »

Once the besieged U.S. troops contacted their headquarters, U.S. forces in Niamey requested aid from the much larger French military contingent based there. French Mirage jets took off within 30 minutes and reached the scene of the attack, near the border with Mali, a half-hour later. But they did not fire, officials said, to avoid hitting friendly forces scattered along with the enemy across the combat zone.

French helicopters, traveling farther and much more slowly from a base in the Malian city of Goa, did not arrive until an hour after that. It was unclear whether the battle was still underway when they reached the scene.

Still hours later, Dunford received a call from Marine Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, head of the U.S. Africa Command, that sparked the Pentagon to deploy members of the secretive Joint Special Operations Command, to the region. With Johnson confirmed missing, military officials feared that he might be alive and could fall into enemy hands, three officials said.

The area where the U.S. unit was operating, on what their orders called a « civil reconnaissance mission, » was relatively new to American forces in Niger, who have conducted numerous similar trips to villages in the southeastern part of the country.

U.S. Special Operations forces have been in Niger to train and assist local troops in counterterrorism operations since at least 2005, and now number between 800 and 1,000. They are part of an initiative begun after the September 2001 al-Qaida attacks, and expanded by the Obama administration, to train and assist government security forces in areas around the world where militant groups might use local unrest to expand their influence.

The U.S. military, which does not have authority for « direct action » offensive operations in the region, also provides logistics and intelligence assistance to the thousands-strong French force in West Africa. France, the former colonial power, deployed troops to Mali in 2012, when Tuareg tribesmen, who had launched a rebellion against the central government, were themselves attacked by Islamist groups tied to al-Qaida affiliates in Libya.

That French mission later expanded to a more permanent force, called Operation Barkhane, in the Sahel, the arid sub-Saharan region of Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali and Mauritania. The French are the only foreign force with authorization to conduct direct actions and to cross borders in the region, which also hosts a U.N. peacekeeping force.

As they have spread in Libya, following the 2011 NATO backed overthrow of Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi, both al-Qaida and more recently the Islamic State have sought adherents in the Sahel. They have found willing followers among poor and isolated populations, often abused by local government and military forces, and riven with ethnic and tribal divisions.

Over the last two years, U.S. and foreign officials have noted the rise of at least three new Mali-based Islamist groups, small in number but increasingly active in cross-border operations in the region. Officials believe that one of them, the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, was responsible for the Oct. 4 ambush.

While it is believed to have no more than 60 pledged fighters, the Sahara group is frequently supplemented by sympathetic local villagers and temporary alliances with other localized groups. Headed by Western Sahara-born Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahraoui, a veteran of an al-Qaida affiliate that was part of the 2012 violence in Mali. Although the Sahara group was recognized by the Islamic State in late 2016, officials do not believe it receives much support beyond recognition from the larger Middle East organization.

Using small arms and traveling by motorcycle across the savannah, they have staged attacks against local military forces in the tri-border area of Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali, including the part of southwest Niger where the ill-fated U.S. unit was operating at the time of the attack.

Although U.S. officials say they await the results of their own investigation, local officials in the area of the attack said that the Americans and their Nigerien partners suggested local complicity, the Voice of America reported. « The attackers, the bandits and the terrorists have never lacked for accomplices among the local populations, » Tongo-Tongo mayor Almou Hassane told VOA’s French-to-Africa service by telephone.

VOA said that the village chief, Mounkaila Alassane, had been arrested by Nigerien authorities since the attack.

The Sahara group fighters usually flee across a neighboring border following attacks, where local forces cannot pursue them. France and the United Nations, along with the African Union, have backed formation by the five Sahel governments of a cross-border counterterrorism force with direct action authority. The United States is still considering whether and how to contribute to financial and other support for the group.

Strars & Stripes –  GREG JAFFE AND KAREN DEYOUNG | The Washington | Published: October 25, 2017

Niger / US : Military brass: Public needs info on Niger Operation

WASHINGTON — The nation’s top military officer said Gold Star family members and the American public are owed more information about the deadly ambush in Niger that left four soldiers dead and two wounded, as President Trump kept up a war of words over his call to the family of one of the fallen. Continuer à lire … « Niger / US : Military brass: Public needs info on Niger Operation »

Niger – Two tops senators didn’t know there are 1,000 American Troops in Niger

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Republican South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham both said Sunday in appearances on “Meet The Press” that they didn’t know there are 1,000 troops in Niger.

News broke recently of four American special operators dying in an ambush in the African nation. Details of their mission are scant, and the Pentagon, while investigating, has been slow to release information.

Graham, a war hawk, was defending the usage of a 2001 Authorization of Military Force to justify the American presence in Niger. American troops are there to support the local fight against Islamist militants.

“I’m arguing that the current authorization as long as it’s related to radical Islam is enough. But here’s — the military determines who the threats are, they come up with the engagement policy and if we don’t like what the military does, we can defund the operation. But I didn’t know there was a thousand troops in Niger,” Graham said.

Later on Meet the Press, Schumer was asked whether he also didn’t know about the extent of the American presence in Niger, and he replied, “No, I did not.”

Unlike Graham, Schumer expressed doubt about the continued usage of the AUMF passed after the 9/11 attacks.

“We’re on an AUMF that extends uh 16 years, from right after we were attacked at the World Trade Center. So I would be for reexamining it,” the top Democratic senator said. “Absolutely. There’s no easy answer, but we should look at it.”

Source : The Daily Caller (Alex Pfeiffer)