That the United States had special forces deployed in Niger wasn’t exactly a secret before the announcement that four US troops were killed in an ambush near the Malian border. It wasn’t exactly public knowledge, either.
The report that the US was sending troops to Niger for “training” back in 2015 was scarcely reported. The first indication that this had expanded to participating in patrols came alongside the first deaths.
This is a classic sign of mission creep, and it’s hardly the first. Earlier this year, the US sustained its first combat deaths in Somalia in over 20 years. The US deployments in Africa that have been quietly made in the last decade never really end, and once there, US African Command (AFRICOM) is always finding new stuff for them to do.
That’s how troops facilitating arms transfers become trainers, and trainers become embedded troops, and ultimately US special forces are just roaming through the country on combat operations.
This was virtually an inevitability when AFRICOM was founded. Just as the establishment of CENTCOM in 1983 gave way to decades of US wars in the Middle East, the AFRICOM creation in 2007 has sewn the seeds for American wars across Africa.