Niger's President Mahamadou Issoufou said in an earlier address that the terrorist attack had claimed "a significant number of victims". They "fell into an ambush set by terrorist elements aboard a dozen vehicles and about twenty motorcycles", Niger's army chief of staff said in a statement. Africa Command said the US forces are in Niger to provide training and security assistance to the Nigerien Armed Forces in their efforts against violent extremists.
On Friday, the Department of Defense confirmed that the three soldiers that were killed Wednesday in southwest Niger were stationed at Fort Bragg.
The group and its ally, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, also claimed responsibility for an attack in on a hotel in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, past year that killed 30 people.
Four Nigerien soldiers also died in the attack.
With window glass exploding all around them, the U.S. soldiers, including multiple Green Berets, exited the vehicles, ran for cover, and began returning fire.
The joint patrol of USA and Niger forces were leaving a meeting with tribal leaders and were in trucks. Once the scene was clear, the USA troops realized one of their own was missing, an official said.
"Any time we deploy full forces globally, we 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're injured to the ability to reinforce them at the point of a fight if they need reinforcement", he said.
US special operations forces have been routinely working with Niger's forces, helping them to improve their abilities to fight extremists in the region.
Mamane contributed to this story from Niamey, Niger.
The U.S. military organises an annual, high-profile U.S. drill as well as longer-term, more discreet training of regional forces.
With the help of French and Nigerien forces, USA troops set out on a rescue mission while other even more Special Forces soldiers were flown into Niger to assist.
"It is discreet but they are there", a Nigerien security source told Reuters.
Asked whether the USA forces had adequate protection, including readily available medical evacuation, McKenzie said rapid evacuation is a primary concern when developing any US mission.
Others however like Ahmedou Ould Abdallah, a former top United Nations official in West Africa and Somalia, recall with concern the American pullout following the "Black Hawk Down" incident. My worry is that after this attack they will also over-react. Officials would not say how he died.