The smoke has begun to clear on the recent attack in Niger that resulted in the deaths of four American soldiers on a patrol mission with Niger military.
The information being revealed by top American military brass and policymakers has raised several important issues.
First on the tactical side. Several signs point to unpreparedness and perhaps even negligence on the part of military planners.
In a recent statement, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford said that a two-hour delay took place before French air support working in tandem with the US effort, responded to the scene of the skirmish. The statement alluded to the possibility that this contributed to the US servicemen’s deaths.
The General also said that one of the casualties, Sgt. La David Johnson became separated from the rest of the American contingent shortly before the battle began. Reports have been circulating that the vehicle Johnson was driving became stuck in the terrain and was not able to keep up with the rest of the deployment, making the Sergeant incredibly vulnerable.
Lastly, the US soldiers were not equipped for the possibility of a major clash. While the attackers fired heavy weapons at the patrol, including RPG’s, the soldiers possessed small arms only.
While Gen. Dunford insisted in his statement that the men took risks as the area was known to be "inherently dangerous,” the series of errors along the way smacks of at least a minimal degree of ill planning. The severity of this ill planning is highlighted by the second point we’re beginning to learn about the Niger incident, namely how deeply entrenched ISIS is in Sub-Saharan Africa. The group of attackers that engaged the joint Niger-US patrol was not a loose-knit handful of militants. According to reports, the force was fifty strong, and as mentioned, came with heavy military hardware. Furthermore, the fact the Americans and Nigeriens were ambushed, means that the attackers had foreknowledge of the patrol’s movements and were able to plan out effective vectors of attack ahead of time.
Even now with details of the attack emerging, officials have admitted that many questions about the incident are still unanswered. Investigations into the attack will continue for at least the next several weeks, which may uncover additional important facts.
However, the implications of what we know already are clear: There is a new arena for the fight against ISIS.
Many observers and US officials have touted the recent victory over ISIS in Raqqa as the death blow for the Caliphate. In truth however, the victory, although significant, does not mean the end of the conflict with ISIS, but rather a drastic shift in it. One of the big changes that was projected as a possibility from the elimination of ISIS strongholds in Syria was a strengthening of the fight in other regions throughout the world. It’s very likely that the recent clash in Niger has marked the beginning of a broader US engagement with the group on the African continent.