DAKAR, March 15 (Reuters) - U.S. and Niger troops killed 11 Islamist militants in a firefight in December, the U.S. military said on Thursday, publicly acknowledging an incident that had previously not been reported.
The incident took place two months after four American and four Nigerien soldiers were killed in the West African country, and could add to controversy about the extent of the little-reported U.S. mission in the region.
“During a mission in the Lake Chad Basin region the morning of Dec. 6, a combined force of Nigerien and U.S. military members came under fire from a formation of violent extremists,” Africom said in the statement.
“We assessed 11 enemy killed in action, including two wearing suicide vests, and one weapons cache destroyed during this mission,” it said, adding that “no U.S. or Nigerien forces were killed or wounded during the attack.”
A military source said the decision to issue a statement about the incident was taken after the New York Times learned of it. The Times reported that it found a reference to the incident in an unclassified report the White House submitted to Congress this week.
The deaths of the four American soldiers in an ambush in Niger in October brought international and domestic U.S. attention to the little-reported mission to combat Islamist militants in the Sahel, the arid region south of the Sahara.
A regional branch of Islamic State claimed responsibility for that attack.
It also led to a political fight between President Donald Trump and a congresswoman who accused him of speaking insensitively to the pregnant widow of one of the soldiers who was killed. (Reporting by Tim Cocks Editing by Peter Graff)