A U.S. Air Force Airman was killed in the West African country of Niger last week, the Department of Defense first revealed late Monday.
The DOD identified the deceased airman as 27-year-old Staff Sergeant Dennis F. Melton of Waverly, Tenn. Melton died on Friday, Feb. 18 in a non-combat incident at the Nigerien Air Base 101 in Niamey, Niger.
The DoD did not specify the cause of Melton’s death but said the incident is under investigation.
Melton was assigned to the 20th Security Forces Squadron, based at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina. Melton was deployed in Niger with the 768th Expeditionary Air Base Squadron.
“The United States Air Force is deeply saddened to announce the death of an Airman who was deployed with the 768th Expeditionary Air Base Squadron,” the Air Force said in a statement provided to WIS News 10.
U.S. forces have been deployed in Niger as part of a counter-insurgency mission that stretches across the Sahel region of Africa. The region includes Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania. It is not clear how many U.S. troops are deployed in the region.
The U.S. military mission in the Sahel region has garnered more widespread attention following the ambush of U.S. Special Forces troops in Tongo Tongo, Niger in October of 2017.
A U.S. service member was injured in a mortar attack in the neighboring West African country of Mali last month. A French soldier was killed in that same mortar attack.
France has played a prominent role in counter-insurgency efforts in the Sahel region, leading an ongoing military mission in the region known as Operation Barkhane.
Last year, Malian military leaders seized control of the country in a coup. In recent weeks, the new military leaders have called on France and other allied nations to withdraw their military forces from Mali. In January, Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod announced Denmark would pull troops from Mali. Last week, French President Emmanuel Macron also announced French troops would leave Mali and redeploy to other countries in the Sahel region, BBC reported.