The death of three American Green Berets in an ambush in Niger catapulted the US' little-known war in the fractured country into mainstream consciousness for perhaps the first time. Nonetheless, the presence of hundreds of US troops to not merely Niger, but other African countries including Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Uganda and South Sudan, remained largely unremarked upon.
US military presence in the Sahel and sub-Saharan regions has grown to at least 1,500 troops, roughly triple the official number of American troops in Syria, according to Pentagon and White House figures.
In June, the official number of US troops supporting Niger's military was 645, up from 575 in December 2016 — that figure has risen to at least 800 as of October. Troops are drawn from Green Berets, Navy SEALs and Marine Raiders, but reinforcements are primarily Air Force personnel, who manage flights by drones and spy planes.
When did the US send forces to Niger?— Heba Hersi (@Hebahersi) October 5, 2017
As of 2016, the US has had a presence in 33 African countries in addition to building a Drone base. pic.twitter.com/z5WWIIr3Te
While apparently totalling less than 1,000, the number of US military staff deployed to the country is a significant jump from the 100 troops then-President Barack Obama deployed to the country — and plans are underway to accommodate an even greater presence, including spending US$50 million to construct an airstrip in the northern city of Agadez, one of the Niger's most volatile areas.
An October 5, Congressional Research Service report notes the growing foreign military footprint in the country "appears to have fed local backlash against both the government and Western countries," making residents more susceptible to jihadist recruiters.
"Some observers have raised concerns about plans to move US operations to a new Air Force-constructed base near the volatile northern city of Agadez, [and] questioned whether Niger can absorb and sustain rapid increases in external military assistance, and whether US security investments can be maintained amid political uncertainty, and responses to near-term security challenges are having an impact on the medium-term stability and democratic trajectory of African counterterrorism partners. The threat environment may also raise questions about US military rules of engagement and force protection," the report notes.
US troops killed in Niger identified as decorated Green Berets, prayers to their families 🙏🏻🇺🇸— Military Support (@MilitaryEarth) October 7, 2017
Take a moment to remember their service and honor their sacrifice. pic.twitter.com/HLQsMgKHGU
The report barely touched on other deployments, although as of June, another 300 US troops operate in neighboring Cameroon, up from 285 in December, and at least 410 US military personnel are nearby in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, Uganda and South Sudan, targeting the Lord's Resistance Army.
Due to the nature of the conflicts — battles against localized guerrilla insurgent groups — the line between military advice and combat roles is becoming blurred in each region, as supporting patrols conducted by local soldiers often come under attack.
The UK is also embroiled in a number of ongoing conflicts in Africa, similarly largely unacknowledged in the mainstream.
For instance, in Somalia a number of British military personnel are developing the Somali National Army and supporting the African Union Mission, and the SAS is also covertly fighting al-Shabab Islamist terrorists in the country, working with Kenyan forces in order to target leaders. SAS Forward Air Controllers have even called in airstrikes against al-Shabaab targets by the Kenyan Air Force.
'Britain’s 7 Covert Wars’. Please retweet widely, people need to know what is being done in their name https://t.co/Vd1UBDxAls— Mark Curtis (@markcurtis30) October 14, 2016
The UK facilitates, and assists in, drone strikes against jihadists in the country, with GCHQ providing "locational intelligence" to US forces for use in these attacks.
In early 2016, Jordan's King Abdullah, whose troops operate with UK special forces, said his troops were ready with Britain and Kenya to go "over the border" to attack al-Shabaab.
In North Africa, it was reported in May 2016 that British troops were secretly engaged in combat in Libya, mere days after Defense Minister Michael Fallon told MPs Britain was not planning "any kind of combat role" in the country. Well into 2017, British commandos were conducting and directing assaults on Libyan frontlines and running intelligence, surveillance and logistical support operations from a base in Misrata.
A team of 15 British forces are also reported to be based in a French-led multinational military operations center in Benghazi supporting renegade Libyan general Khalifa Haftar, and helping to coordinate airstrikes in support of Haftar, whose forces are opposed to the Tripoli-based government — that British troops are also meant to be supporting.