Niger Ambush Suspect Could Be in Custody, Officers Say

Niger Ambush Suspect Could Be in Custody, Officers Say


Military forces performing on a tip rounded up a number of males suspected of being fighters from the militant group, generally known as the Islamic State of the Larger Sahara, he stated.

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Troopers from Niger throughout an train on the outskirts of the capital, Niamey, in February.

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Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Occasions

“We now have been following these guys for fairly some time now,” Colonel Main Barmou stated. “We all know the final space the place he goes. Anyone instructed us he was on this space, and possibly it is best to conduct a patrol and get him.”

America ambassador to Niger, Eric P. Whitaker, stated in an interview on Monday that Nigerien officers had instructed him and American army officers and regulation enforcement officers concerning the seize, and that American officers had been ready to get extra data from the Nigerien authorities.

“It’s nonetheless underneath investigation,” stated Mr. Whitaker, who then held up each palms along with his fingers crossed to point his hopes that the suspect is confirmed to be Mr. Cheffou.

The troubled district of Tillaberi sits at Niger’s border with Mali, a lawless space the place the central authorities has struggled to claim management.

Herders from the Peul ethnic group have lengthy complained of dropping their cattle to armed bandits. In recent times, the ISIS affiliate has recruited closely from the area, arming Peul males in return for his or her participation in jihad.

Corinne Dufka, the Sahel director for Human Rights Watch, stated the militants had gained over the native inhabitants by addressing longstanding grievances.

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Villagers Ms. Dufka interviewed throughout the border in Mali described how the group’s chief gave out soccer balls to Peul youth. They described him as a “savior” and stated the jihadists had stepped into the safety vacuum and given the neighborhood the power to guard itself.

Mr. Cheffou, a onetime cattle herder, is believed to be the terrorist group’s senior commander within the area, the place there have been at the least 46 attacks since 2016.

He was being tracked by American intelligence companies each due to his seniority within the group and since he’s suspected of getting performed a job within the kidnapping of an American support employee, Jeffery Woodke, in line with Rudy Atallah, the previous director of African counterterrorism coverage for the Pentagon.

On the night time of Oct. 3, a cellphone believed to be related to Mr. Cheffou lit up in a distant spot within the desert on the Mali-Niger border. The intercepted sign led American officers to scramble collectively a raid. They first tried to ship a Particular Forces unit from a base within the northern Nigerien outpost of Arlit, however their mission was scotched due to unhealthy climate or mechanical issues with their helicopter.

It was then that officers determined to reroute a unit of American and Nigerien forces, who had been conducting a routine, low-risk patrol within the space, although they weren’t properly equipped for the mission.

After the nighttime raid, when they didn’t discover Mr. Cheffou, the troopers returned by the village of Tongo Tongo, the place the ambush happened.

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Jeffery Woodke, an American support employee who was kidnapped in October 2016.

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by way of Agence France-Presse — Getty Photographs

Survivors of the ambush described how the village chief of Tongo Tongo had come out to greet the troops after which started making a sequence of requests — for medication, for meals — that gave the impression to be an try to delay them. He was later arrested, and in his cellphone investigators found cellphone numbers related to Mr. Cheffou, in line with Nigerien officers.

The ambush has modified the way in which American troops function on this area. United States commando missions with native forces in Africa now want higher-level approval, and officers apply harder risk-benefit assessments to these operations.

“We’ve adjusted the extent with which they’re authorized,” Maj. Gen. J. Marcus Hicks, the top of American Particular Operations forces in Africa, stated in an interview, declining to provide extra particular particulars. “We’ve been very deliberate about making certain that communication is completely seamless at each stage.”

Normal Hicks, talking on the sidelines of a counterterrorism coaching train in Niamey, additionally confirmed earlier studies that Particular Operations forces had lowered the variety of missions through which American advisers accompany African troops on dangerous operations towards rebel teams. Senior commanders now ship out commandos solely on missions with native forces that “may have the best strategic affect,” he stated.

In any other case, they may more and more keep nearer to the rear, working from command facilities to assist African officers grapple with intelligence, logistics, artillery and different facets of massive operations which are essential however not as flashy as front-line fight towards a variety of teams aligned with Al Qaeda or the Islamic State.

Normal Hicks declined to touch upon a prolonged investigation into the ambush final Oct. 4. The report is awaiting Protection Secretary Jim Mattis’s ultimate approval.

Among the many report’s preliminary findings: The chief of the ill-fated workforce of American troopers in Niger final fall warned earlier than the mission that his troops didn’t have the gear or intelligence needed to hold out the kill-or-capture raid towards the militant chief, The New York Times reported final month.

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