4th American soldier killed in Niger attack

The body of another U.S. service member recovered from Niger raised to four the number of U.S. service members killed in an Oct. 4 attack during an advise-and-assist mission, U.S. Africa Command’s director of public affairs said.

U.S. Africa Command, in concert with interagency and international partners, builds defense capabilities, responds to crisis, and deters and defeats transnational threats to advance U.S. national interests and promote regional security, stability, and prosperity.

Army Col. Mark R. Cheadle briefed reporters at the Pentagon, describing the mission as one that was not meant to be an engagement with the enemy.

“It was meant to establish relations with the local leaders and the threat at the time was deemed to be unlikely,” Cheadle said, “so there was no overhead armed air cover during the engagement. But our allies the French were very quick to respond with their assets immediately upon notification that it was needed.”

Service Member Deaths

On Oct. 4, three U.S. service members and one partner-nation member were killed, and two American soldiers were wounded while conducting a mission in support of Nigerien security forces in the southwestern part of the country, chief Pentagon spokesperson Dana W. White said during a news conference yesterday.

The wounded personnel were flown to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, and earlier today the Pentagon released the names of three of the fallen soldiers.

They are Army Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black, 35, of Puyallup, Washington; Army Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, 39, of Springboro, Ohio; and Army Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright, 29, of Lyons, Georgia.

It is the first time American forces have been killed and wounded in combat in the country, White said.

Joint Staff Director Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, who joined White during yesterday’s press conference, said there’s a risk for U.S. forces in Niger.

“Anytime we deploy full forces globally we will look very hard at the enablers that need to be in place in order to provide security for them. And that ranges from the ability to pull them out if they are injured, to the ability to reinforce them at the point of a fight if they … need reinforcement. We look at all those things, and evaluate on a continual basis,” he said.

Honoring the Fallen

Two days after DoD notified the public about the three deaths in Niger, Cheadle said that Nigerien security forces found the body of the fourth American soldier.

A joint patrol of about 40 soldiers searched for the soldier, who at the time was thought to be missing, until his body was found by the Nigerians, Cheadle said, adding that there was a full-court press by all of DoD, the Nigerian government, the State Department and the French allies to help recover the lost soldier.

When they found the soldier’s body, Cheadle said, “they were fully aware of the need to honor [him] and they transported the body to a location far away from the attack, where our special operations forces met them.”

He added, “And I watched this myself. I watched the brothers carry the fallen soldier to the aircraft and watched it take him away to Niamey, the capital, where [he] was identified.”

The fourth fallen soldier’s name will be released after next of kin notification procedures are complete, DoD officials said.

Cheadle said they don’t know where the soldier’s vehicle was hit or where he came under fire.

“We are looking into all the facts that we can gather and [with our Nigerien partners] we will … figure out why this happened and what can be done to protect our soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen in the future,” Cheadle said.

Those killed in the October 4 attack raises the number of American soldiers killed in Africa this year to five.

During an operation in May, where U.S. forces were conducting a mission alongside Somalia’s army, an American was killed approximately 40 miles west of Mogadishu by al-Shabaab militants.

A statement from the Defense Department said Al-Shabaab presents a threat to Americans and American interests as an affiliate of the terrorist group al-Qaeda, which has murdered Americans; radicalizes and recruits terrorists and fighters in the United States; and attempts to conduct and inspire attacks against Americans, our allies and our interests around the world, including here at home.

U.S. forces are assisting allies to counter al-Shabaab in Somalia to degrade the al-Qaeda affiliate’s ability to recruit, train and plot external terror attacks throughout the region and in America to help achieve stability and security as part of the global counterterrorism effort.

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