Body of missing US service member recovered in Niger
The discovery of the missing US service member in a remote area of the northwestern African country by Nigerien troops comes nearly 48 hours after he was first discovered to be missing in the wake of the attack.
The recovery of the missing US service member raised the number of US troops killed in Wednesday’s attack to four.
The Pentagon later confirmed the recovery.
“The body of another US service member has been recovered from the area of the attack bringing the number of US service members killed in this attack to four,” Department of Defense spokesman Col. Rob Manning told reporters at the Pentagon.
The 12-member US team was leaving a meeting in unarmored pick-up trucks when they began taking fire from small arms, machine guns and rocket propelled grenades, according to a US defense official.
With window glass exploding all around them, the US soldiers, including multiple Green Berets, exited the vehicles, ran for cover, and began returning fire.
It is unclear how the missing service member became separated during the firefight from the rest of the advisory team he was accompanying. None of the other soldiers involved in the engagement witnessed him being captured or taken away by enemy forces.
The US military does not believe the missing service member was ever in enemy hands.
One reason the US military launched the urgent search and rescue mission was that electronic signals were monitored indicating the possibility that he was still alive in the field.
The US military initially issued a statement Thursday saying the attack left three US service members dead and two wounded.
A large scale search and rescue operation involving US, French and Nigerien troops was launched soon after US officials realized one of the US service members was unaccounted for.
Elite US Special Operations Forces troops were flown in from the continental US to aid in the recovery effort.
US Navy SEALs were deployed to a US military base in Sigonella, Sicily in anticipation of a possible rescue attempt but never went into Niger.
CNN did not report the details of the search operation while it was ongoing and did not report the deceased service member’s recovery until CNN was assured that his family was notified.
A US official says a full investigation into what happened is underway.
A spokeswoman for the French Ministry of Defense told CNN Thursday that French troops from the Barkhane anti-terror force based in neighboring Chad were involved in an operation in Niger. She said the operation was led by Niger with French troops supporting them. US officials told CNN Thursday that French military Super Puma helicopters evacuated the wounded Americans along with those killed in action while also providing covering fire. The wounded were first flown to the capital Niamey and later to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.
French military attack aircraft also flew to the area in an attempt to support US personnel on the ground.
Five Nigerien soldiers also were killed in the attack, according to a Nigerien security official.
The US soldiers were part of a team advising and assisting local forces.