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The U.S. military said on Friday that a fourth soldier was killed during an attack on Wednesday in Niger, raising the death toll from an incident that has thrown a spotlight on the U.S. counterterrorism mission in the West African nation, Reuters reported.
The United States had previously announced that three U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers had been killed and another two wounded when a joint U.S.-Nigerien patrol came under attack near the village of Tongo Tongo.
It did not disclose until Friday that a fourth soldier had been missing. Officials said his body was found by Nigerien forces on Friday morning near the site of the ambush, ending an extensive rescue and recovery mission.
No group has taken responsibility for the killings, although officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, say the United States suspects a local branch of Islamic State was responsible.
The U.S. military’s Africa Command declined to publicly name any group but said the American military would hunt down the insurgents.
“Absolutely, we are resolved and stalwart in our efforts to go after those who attacked this joint patrol of Nigerien and U.S. forces,” said Army Colonel Mark Cheadle, a spokesman for the U.S. military’s Africa Command.
From initial accounts, the 40-member patrol, which included about a dozen U.S. troops, came under a swift attack by militants riding in a dozen vehicles and on about 20 motorcycles.
Islamist militants form part of a regional insurgency in the poor, sparsely populated deserts of West Africa’s Sahel.
Jihadists have stepped up attacks on U.N. peacekeepers, Malian soldiers and civilian targets since being driven back in northern Mali by a French-led military intervention in 2013.
U.S. President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron discussed joint counterterrorism operations in the Sahel to defeat al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups during a call on Friday, the White House said.