The US military believes someone in a Niger village may have tipped off attackers to the presence of US commandos and Nigerien forces in the area, setting in motion the ambush that killed four Americans, a senior defense official said Tuesday. The official says the Army Green Berets and about 30 Niger forces stopped in a village about 85 miles north of Niger's capital, Niamey, for an hour or two to get food and water after conducting an overnight reconnaissance mission, the AP reports. After they left, they were ambushed by about 50 heavily armed enemy fighters. The official says the US believes someone in the village alerted militants in a relatively new ISIS offshoot that calls itself Islamic State in the Sahel.
The official backs up a survivor's account of a morphed mission, saying the joint US and Niger team was initially sent on a routine mission to meet local tribal leaders. But after they had set out on Oct. 3, they received a new assignment, the official says. They were asked to assist a second American commando team in the area by collecting intelligence at a location where an al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb insurgent had last been seen. Because the insurgent was no longer in that area, military commanders believed the operation wasn't risky, the official says. The group that attacked is not believed to be linked to the AQIM militant. Army records show that the four soldiers killed had little to no combat experience, though the Pentagon stresses that all four went through intensive Special Forces training, the Wall Street Journal reports.