The United States Africa Command confirmed that three Army Special Forces soldiers were killed in Niger on Wednesday night after they were ambushed. Two other U.S. soldiers were wounded while Nigerian forces lost five soldiers. The command released this statement:

Update #2: On Oct. 4, three (3) U.S. service members and one partner nation member were killed while the U.S. was providing advice and assistance to Nigerien security force counter-terror operations, approximately 200 km north of Niamey, in southwest Niger. Additionally, two U.S. service members were injured and evacuated in stable condition to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.

Names are being withheld as part of the next of kin notification process.

The Attack

The command center did not reveal many details, The Washington Post reported that the local media claimed “that the joint patrol was lured into an ambush” and they described the attackers “as coming from Mali, where al-Qaeda’s North African branch has been battling both the government and a French-led coalition seeking to root them out of their desert hideouts.”

These deaths are “the first known hostile-fire casualties in Niger.”

The U.S. have flown the wounded to Landstuhl, Germany, and officials said they are in stable condition.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Why Are We In Niger?

Back in February 2013, former President Barack Obama told Congress that the defense department “deployed about 100 troops to the West African nation of Niger to conduct unmanned reconnaissance flights over Mali and share intelligence with French forces fighting al Qaeda-affiliated militants.”

Al-Qaeda took over most of northern Mali in 2012, but help from the French military squashed them out. However, some cells remain and inflict terror in the region. Niger has also had to deal with Boko Haram terrorists that have crossed over from Nigeria.

It also turns out that the U.S. is currently constructing “a $50 million drone base in Agadez, Niger” that will allow drones to travel closer to southern Libya and monitor extremist groups like the Islamic State. From The New York Times:

Since 2013, unarmed American drones have soared skyward from a secluded military airfield in Niamey, starting surveillance missions of 10 hours or more to track fighters affiliated with Al Qaeda and other militants in Mali.

Over the years, MQ-9 Reapers that have been based there stream live video and data from other sensors to American analysts working with French commanders, who say the aerial intelligence has been critical to their success in driving jihadists from a vast desert refuge in northern Mali.