Army forces appearing on a tip rounded up a number of males suspected of being fighters from the militant group, often called the Islamic State of the Greater Sahara, he mentioned.
“We have been following those guys for quite a while now,” Colonel Major Barmou mentioned. “We know the general area where he goes. Somebody told us he was in this area, and probably you should conduct a patrol and get him.”
The United States ambassador to Niger, Eric P. Whitaker, mentioned in an interview on Monday that Nigerien officers had informed him and American army officers and legislation enforcement officers concerning the seize, and that American officers have been ready to get extra data from the Nigerien authorities.
“It is still under investigation,” mentioned Mr. Whitaker, who then held up each fingers 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 say management.
Herders from the Peul ethnic group have lengthy complained of shedding their cattle to armed bandits. In current years, 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, mentioned the militants had gained over the native inhabitants by addressing longstanding grievances.
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 mentioned the jihadists had stepped into the safety vacuum and given the neighborhood the flexibility 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 a minimum of 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 assist employee, Jeffery Woodke, in response to Rudy Atallah, the previous director of African counterterrorism coverage for the Pentagon.
On the evening of Oct. three, 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 Special Forces unit from a base within the northern Nigerien outpost of Arlit, however their mission was scotched due to dangerous climate or mechanical issues with their helicopter.
It was then that officers determined to reroute a unit of American and Nigerien forces, who have 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 via the village of Tongo Tongo, the place the ambush occurred.
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 and delay them. He was later arrested, and in his cellphone investigators found telephone numbers related to Mr. Cheffou, in response to Nigerien officers.
The ambush has modified the best way 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 level with which they’re approved,” Maj. Gen. J. Marcus Hicks, the pinnacle of American Special Operations forces in Africa, mentioned in an interview, declining to offer extra particular particulars. “We’ve been very deliberate about ensuring that communication is absolutely seamless at every level.”
General Hicks, talking on the sidelines of a counterterrorism coaching train in Niamey, additionally confirmed earlier reviews that Special Operations forces had diminished the variety of missions by which American advisers accompany African troops on dangerous operations in opposition to rebel teams. Senior commanders now ship out commandos solely on missions with native forces that “will have the greatest strategic impact,” he mentioned.
Otherwise, they’ll more and more keep nearer to the rear, working from command facilities to assist African officers grapple with intelligence, logistics, artillery and different points of massive operations which can be essential however not as flashy as front-line fight in opposition to a variety of teams aligned with Al Qaeda or the Islamic State.
General Hicks declined to touch upon a prolonged investigation into the ambush final Oct. four. The report is awaiting Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’s last approval.
Among the report’s preliminary findings: The chief of the ill-fated crew of American troopers in Niger final fall warned earlier than the mission that his troops didn’t have the gear or intelligence mandatory to hold out the kill-or-capture raid in opposition to the militant chief, The New York Times reported final month.