The US maintains an 800-strong troop presence in Niger, according to US Africa Command (AFRICOM), but many of them are there temporarily, assigned to constructing a drone base near Agadez in central Niger, Mattis told lawmakers in the Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday.
On Monday, Sputnik News reported that the US is building a new drone base in the country, upping its 800-plus foreign base collection, which spans 70 countries. The base will come at a cost of $110 million, making it the largest construction project handled by US forces in American history.
Mattis said that the troops involved in that effort will "come out when that construction is done," adding that he does not "see any significant increase" in the US' permanent troop levels in the country. However, "there could be temporary increases," as the US works with its Nigerien partners to rid the country of Daesh affiliates.
That partnership "does not call for large numbers of US troops. Our Special Forces are ideally suited for that sort of thing," Mattis said.
Sputnik News reported this week that the Pentagon was finalizing its Article 15-6 fact-finding investigation into the events leading up to the deadly ambush that left four American soldiers and five Nigeriens dead and had begun briefing families of the fallen US soldiers on their findings.
Details from that final report have since emerged. Command failures, disregard for rules of engagement and a "culture of excessive risk" in the US Special Forces were blamed as having contributed to the ambush near the Mali-Niger border.
Eleven US troops and 30 Nigerien troops went off on a normal patrol October 4, 2017, and were meeting with local leaders in an effort to garner intelligence. A low-level commander copied and pasted orders from a different operation into the task then at hand in a bid to get the necessary approval for a raid on ISGS leader Doundou Chefou, the Wall Street Journal reports. The snafu resulted in the US-Niger force wandering into a deadly ambush by more than 50 of Chefou's fighters, which were not in the abandoned camp the search party had believed them to be.
A redacted version of the Article 15-6 fact-finding investigation is expected to be publicly released some time in the future.