Top US General Says Niger Probe Continues With Details Elusive

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In sharp contrast, today before reporters at the Pentagon, General Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was measured, open, and responsive.

Dunford said the four American soldiers were killed in a firefight after they engaged ISIS militants during a reconnaissance mission in hostile territory. USA forces accompanied that Nigerien unit on a reconnaissance mission to gather information.

Dunford said that the White House was notified about the ambush shortly after the troops' bodies went missing, and their retrieval was accomplished through an global recovery effort. The fighting went on for "several hours", though Dunford said that the troops requested an airstrike only an hour after making initial contact with the enemy.

French armored vehicles head toward the Niger border in 2013. But he also agreed that it is an inherently risky area, and US forces are there as part of a training and advising mission to help local Niger forces learn to deal with the various al-Qaida and IS-linked groups operating in the region.

Military officials are now investigating the circumstances of the attack, including why the body of one of the fallen servicemen, Sgt.

New details would emerge from the investigation that is being conducted by a general officer of U.S. Africa Command, Dunford cautioned throughout the briefing.

Despite a state of emergency, the closing of markets and a night ban on motorized traffic, there have been nearly 50 militant attacks in Niger's two southwestern regions since February previous year, according to the United Nations humanitarian office. Dunford said the drone did not launch a strike and he hadn't witnessed video from the surveillance.

Dunford, when asked if the US would respond to those responsible for the ambush, said the USA would "enable local partners to go after them".

While Niger is one of the world's poorest nations, it accounted for 8 percent of global uranium output in 2013, ranking as the fourth-largest producer, according to the World Nuclear Association. "We have to acknowledge that our work is not done, even with the fall of Mosul and Raqqa", Dunford said.

"U.S. forces and coalition forces in the area don't have any limitations...."

Dunford added that two USA soldiers were injured and evacuated by a French aircraft during the firefight. "We have the inherent right", he said.

"The assessment by our leaders on the ground at that time was that contact with the enemy was unlikely", he said. Three U.S. soldiers who were killed were also evacuated that evening while Sgt.

AFRICOM has warned it lacks sufficient search and rescue as well as intelligence gathering assets in Africa, delivering a red flag to Congress in March about its operational shortfalls.

Dunford acknowledged that "there's been a lot of speculation about the operation in Niger, and there's a perception that the Department of Defense has not been forthcoming".