USA soldiers killed in ambush in Niger

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The Pentagon said Friday that the body of a US service member has been recovered in Niger following a militant ambush near the Mali border Wednesday, raising the American death toll to four.

U.S. officials say an American soldier missing for almost two days in Niger has been found dead.

The attack by Mali-based militants in Niger's Tillaberi region also wounded eight Niger soldiers and two US soldiers, according to a statement by Niger's Army Chief of Staff.

The mixed force was ambushed by fighters on dozens of vehicles and motorcycles.

There are about 800 USA military personnel in Niger helping that country's counterterrorism efforts against extremist groups.

"Our country is once again the target of a terrorist attack, with a large number of victims", he said. Two other soldiers were injured in the attack and a partner-force soldier was also killed.

Niger, an impoverished, arid country in Francophone West Africa, is one of the most strategic locations in US counterterrorism operations in Africa, sandwiched between Nigeria, to the south, where an Islamic State affiliate, Boko Haram, has been fighting to establish Islamic rule, and Mali, to the west, where multiple extremist militias are present.

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Terrorist groups-including Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and ISIS-have reportedly been traveling across the Niger-Mali border to trade black market goods to help finance their activities.

About 800 USA personnel are assigned to posts in Niger, mostly at two sites focused on gathering aerial reconnaissance for Nigerian forces.

The US soldiers had been providing advice and assistance in Niger's counter-terror operations and come under "hostile fire", it said.

"I would say that over the last few years we have increased our military presence in that country", said McKenzie.

France and Germany also have bases in Niger, reflecting its strategic importance in the counterterrorism struggle.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters Wednesday night that Gen. John Kelly had briefed President Donald Trump on the incident. The first units are expected to deploy in October and all battalions should be on the ground by March 2018.

That force will operate in the region along with a 12,000-strong United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali, which has become the deadliest in the world for United Nations peacekeepers, and France's 5,000-strong Barkhane military operation, its largest overseas mission.