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One French service member dead, one American injured in Niger accident

A Green Beret with 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) practices patrolling techniques with Nigerien soldiers during Exercise Flintlock 2017 in Diffa, Niger, Feb. 28, 2017. 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) is regionally aligned to North and West Africa. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Kulani Lakanaria)

The U.S. military is investigating a deadly accident involving U.S. and French troops in Niger that left one French service member dead and an American injured, U.S. Africa Command said Tuesday.

The U.S. service member was in stable condition after the Saturday vehicle accident, which was unrelated to any combat operation, said Maj. Karl Wiest, an AFRICOM spokesman.

“American military personnel provided on-site medical care to the French service member before medically evacuating him to Agadez for additional care,” Wiest said in a statement.

The New York Times, citing unnamed defense officials, reported the driver — a Green Beret — might have been under the influence of alcohol at the time of the accident.

AFRICOM said the incident was under investigation and offered few details about the nature of the accident.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of the affected service member,” Wiest said. “There is an ongoing investigation into this incident. We will release more details as appropriate.”

The French service member died while undergoing treatment in Agadez, AFRICOM said. The American was evacuated to Europe for treatment, the command said.

The U.S. military operates at a base in Agadez, known as Niger Air Base 201. The site will eventually be a hub for operating drone flights, but work on the $100 million facility is not yet complete. The United States expects to be flying missions from the site in 2019, and there are several hundred U.S. personnel working at the facility.

During the past two years, the United States has quietly added troops in western Africa, and Niger has emerged as a main hub of operations. However, an ambush in October 2017 that left four U.S. soldiers dead, brought increased scrutiny to American military efforts in the region.

While the United States has been involved in counterterrorism missions in the area for years, the fact that U.S. special operations troops were in the line of fire in Niger took many officials in Washington by surprise.

In the aftermath, several troops were issued reprimands from military leadership for planning and oversight failures connected to the mission. Maj. Gen. Marcus Hicks, who leads U.S. Special Operations Command Africa, was the highest ranking officer to receive a reprimand.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon recently announced it will reduce the number of troops operating out of western Africa as the military shifts its focus to China and Russia.

Still, AFRICOM said its mission in Niger and partnership with local forces is important for countering extremism.

“A safe, stable, secure and prosperous Africa is an enduring United States interest,” Wiest said. “The U.S. military provides training and security assistance to the Nigerien Armed Forces, including support for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance to facilitate their efforts to target violent extremist organizations in the region.”


© 2018 the Stars and Stripes

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