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Four U.S. soldiers Deaths in Niger hint at the shadow war against ISIS in Africa

Four U.S. soldiers Deaths in Niger hint at the shadow war against ISIS in Africa
Less than a year ago, the Islamic State’s ambitions in Africa seemed all but shattered. In Libya, militias assisted by U.S. Special Forces soldiers and airstrikes drove the
militants from their stronghold in the city of Sirte. Hundreds of Islamic State fighters died. Others fled southward toward desert hideouts.

“There were no more black flags,” recalled Claudia Gazzini, a senior Libya analyst for the International Crisis Group, describing the situation when she visited southern Libya after the militant group’s defeat in December.
But many highly trained Islamic State fighters crossed into the vast ungoverned areas of impoverished Niger, according to regional security officials and analysts. Some then flowed to zones where militants were active in Mali, Nigeria and other countries.
The fighters have helped inject new energy into a spreading Islamist militancy, creating new challenges for U.S. forces in the region. Few Americans knew their troops were engaged in one of the world's most complex battlegrounds until four elite U.S. soldiers were killed by militants last month in a remote corner of Niger.

Instead of celebrating the defeat of the Islamic State in Africa, the Pentagon and its allies are confronting an increasingly potent constellation of militant groups, and a deepening rivalry between al-Qaeda and the Islamic State for influence and recruits.
“The big challenge is the instability in Libya,” said Kalla Moutari, Niger's minister of defense, in an interview Wednesday. “Fighters and weapons from Libya continue to come to this part of the world because there are no controls over there.”
Islamist militants have managed to exploit ethnic and communal tensions as well as resentment over poverty and unemployment to gain support. Complicating the efforts to defeat the militants are the weakness or repressive actions of the region’s armies, poor governance and porous borders.
The killing of the four U.S. soldiers has set off questions in Washington about the U.S. military’s role in the Sahel, a barren belt stretching from western through north-central Africa.

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