Niger Ambush Suspect May Be in Custody, Officials Say

“We have been following those guys for quite a while currently,” Colonel Major Barmou said. “We know the general area where he goes. Somebody told us he was in that will area, in addition to probably you should conduct a patrol in addition to get him.”

The United States ambassador to Niger, Eric P. Whitaker, said in an interview on Monday that will Nigerien officials had told him in addition to American military officers in addition to law enforcement officials about the capture, in addition to that will American officials were waiting to get more information coming from the Nigerien authorities.

“that will can be still under investigation,” said Mr. Whitaker, who then held up both hands with his fingers crossed to indicate his hopes that will the suspect can be confirmed to be Mr. Cheffou.

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Soldiers coming from Niger during an exercise on the outskirts of the capital, Niamey, in February.

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Finbarr O’Reilly for The completely new York Times

The troubled district of Tillaberi sits at Niger’s border with Mali, a lawless area where the central government has struggled to assert control.

Herders coming from the Peul ethnic group have long complained of losing their cattle to armed bandits. In recent years, the ISIS affiliate has recruited heavily coming from the region, arming Peul men in return for their participation in jihad.

Corinne Dufka, the Sahel director for Human Rights Watch, said the militants had won over the local population by addressing longstanding grievances.

Villagers Ms. Dufka interviewed across the border in Mali described how the group’s leader gave out soccer balls to Peul youth. They described him as a “savior” in addition to said the jihadists had stepped into the security vacuum in addition to given the community the ability to protect itself.

Mr. Cheffou, a onetime cattle herder, can be believed to be the terrorist group’s senior commander inside the region, where there have been at least 46 attacks since 2016.

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He was being tracked by American intelligence agencies both because of his seniority inside the group in addition to because he can be suspected of having played a role inside the kidnapping of an American aid worker, Jeffery Woodke, according to Rudy Atallah, the former director of African counterterrorism policy for the Pentagon.

On the night of Oct. 3, a cellphone believed to be associated with Mr. Cheffou lit up in a distant spot inside the desert at the Mali-Niger border. The intercepted signal led American officials to scramble together a raid. They first tried to send a Special Forces unit coming from a base inside the northern Nigerien outpost of Arlit, however their mission was scotched because of bad weather or mechanical problems with their helicopter.

that will was then that will officials decided to reroute a unit of American in addition to Nigerien forces, who were conducting a routine, low-risk patrol inside the area, though they were not properly equipped for the mission.

After the nighttime raid, when they did not find Mr. Cheffou, the soldiers returned through the village of Tongo Tongo, where the ambush took place.

Survivors of the ambush described how the village chief of Tongo Tongo had come out to greet the troops in addition to then began doing a series of requests — for medicine, for food — that will appeared to be an attempt to delay them. He was later arrested, in addition to in his cellphone investigators discovered phone numbers associated with Mr. Cheffou, according to Nigerien officials.

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Jeffery Woodke, an American aid worker who was abducted in October 2016.

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via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The ambush has changed the way American troops operate in that will region. United States commando missions with local forces in Africa currently need higher-level approval, in addition to officers apply tougher risk-benefit assessments to those operations.

“We’ve adjusted the level with which they’re approved,” Maj. Gen. J. Marcus Hicks, the head of American Special Operations forces in Africa, said in an interview, declining to give more specific details. “We’ve been very deliberate about ensuring that will communication can be absolutely seamless at every level.”

General Hicks, speaking on the sidelines of a counterterrorism training exercise in Niamey, also confirmed earlier reports that will Special Operations forces had reduced the number of missions in which American advisers accompany African troops on risky operations against insurgent groups. Senior commanders currently send out commandos only on missions with local forces that will “will hold the greatest strategic impact,” he said.

Otherwise, they will increasingly stay closer to the rear, working coming from command centers to help African officers grapple with intelligence, logistics, artillery in addition to additional aspects of big operations that will are important however not as flashy as front-line combat against a range of groups aligned with Al Qaeda or the Islamic State.

General Hicks declined to comment on a lengthy investigation into the ambush last Oct. 4. The report can be awaiting Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’s final approval.

Among the report’s preliminary findings: The leader of the ill-fated team of American soldiers in Niger last fall warned before the mission that will his troops did not hold the equipment or intelligence necessary to carry out the kill-or-capture raid against the militant leader, The completely new York Times reported last month.

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