Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, said Monday that U.S. forces were deployed in Niger because intelligence shows ISIS involvement there.
Dunford addressed the media at the Pentagon and described a global strategy against forces supported by ISIS and Al Qaeda, who have expanded operations in Africa. Answering a question about whether this could lead to "mission creep," Dunford said the U.S. judgment is to deal with these threats primarily by empowering local security forces to oppose the terror groups.
"In our judgment, we're dealing with global threats in Al Qaeda, in ISIS, in other groups, and the theory of the case of our strategy is to be able to put pressure on them simultaneously wherever they are," Dunford said. "And as importantly, to anticipate where they will be and to make sure that where they are and where they will be, when they get there, they're confronted by local security forces that have the ability to meet the challenges associated with Al Qaeda, ISIS, and other groups."
At another point, Dunford clarified that in this particular case in Niger, the group was affiliated with ISIS.
"So we are working with partners on the ground in West Africa," he added. "We are working with partners on the ground in other parts of Africa."
Dunford said forces in Niger comprise "800 Americans...4,000 French, and there’s over 35,0000 local partners." He likened the situation to other places where the U.S. has deployed forces in relatively small numbers to support larger local forces fighting ISIS and other terror groups.
"If you look at the numbers in Afghanistan, approximately 11,000 Americans on the ground, 300,000 Afghans," he said. "So what the American people need to know is, with a relatively small footprint, we are enabling local forces to deal with these challenges before they become a threat to the American people, and to help them deal with the challenges so they don't further destabilize their local area or region."
Four U.S. soldiers were killed in Niger after an ambush on Oct. 4.