By: Robert Johnson
Recent news of the deaths of four U.S. Army Green Berets in Niger surprised the nation and marked some of the first American combat fatalities under the Trump administration, as well as the first American fatalities in Niger from hostile fire. These recent events may also have come as a surprise to some Americans who had little idea that American forces were even deployed to Niger, let alone engaged in combat. In an age of sprawling, multilateral global conflicts, it is difficult for even an observant citizen to make sense of the U.S. military’s global presence. To understand the recent fatalities, it is first necessary to understand the treaties undergirding American deployments to Niger as well as international agreements bearing on the situation.
As of January 1, 2017, the United States had seven different bilateral defense treaties with the country of Niger, three of which are not publicly available. The bilateral Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) governing the deployment of troops with which the slain Green Berets were associated was effected on January 28, 2013. The SOFA is a fairly typical bilateral agreement between the United States and other countries to which it sends military forces and it covers the main aspects of military involvement in that country. In addition to the SOFA, there are two similar non-public agreements regarding the recent U.S. military presence in Niger. These include an agreement concerning United States access to and use of facilities in the Republic of Niger, and an Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement, which allows for logistical cooperation between the U.S. military and the military of Niger.
The jihadist threat in the Sahel region has not only drawn the involvement of U.S. armed forces. French forces have also become involved, and the conflict has drawn significant attention from the U.N. as well as the African Union.  In fact, French helicopters were used to evacuate the wounded U.S. Special Forces troops from the battlefield. The most significant international agreement bearing on the situation in the Sahel region is U.N. Resolution 2359, passed unanimously on June 21, 2017. Resolution 2359 authorizes an international force of up to 5,000 troops from the Group of Five for the Sahel (G5 Sahel), composed of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger designed to combat the growth of terrorism in the region. The resolution also condones French military involvement in support of the G5 Sahel mission.
It is unclear how the American and international presence in the Sahel will evolve in the future. Despite the fact that the U.S. active duty presence overseas is at its smallest in decades, the American commitment in Niger grew from 420 troops to over 645 in less than a year. This commitment may continue to grow, rather than shrink, as a result of the recent combat fatalities. It is likely that as the mission in Niger continues to expand, so too will the expenditure of American resources as well as the international spotlight to that question.
 Krishandev Calamur, The Region where ISIS, Al Qaeda, and Boko Haram Converge, The Atlantic (Oct. 5, 2017), https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2017/10/us-niger-green-berets/542190/.
United States Department of State, Treaties in Force: a List of Treaties and Other International Agreements in Force on January 1, 2017, 336 (2017) https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/273494.pdf.
 Status of Forces Agreement Between the United States of America and Niger, Jan. 28, 2013, No.13-128, https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/205314.pdf.
 United States Department of State, International Security Advisory Board: Report on Status of Forces Agreements, Jan. 16, 2015, https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/236456.pdf.
 United States Department of State, Treaties in Force: a List of Treaties and Other International Agreements in Force on January 1, 2017, at 336.https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/273494.pdf.
 Acquisition and Cross-Service Agreements, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics (2017), http://www.acq.osd.mil/ic/ACSA.html.
 Amadou Sy, U.S. and French Collaboration in Africa: Security and Defense Considerations, Brookings (Jun. 20, 2014), https://www.brookings.edu/blog/africa-in-focus/2014/06/20/u-s-and-french-collaboration-in-africa-security-and-defense-considerations/.
 Press Release, African Union, The African Union Welcomes UN Resolution on G5 Force (Jun. 22, 2017).
 Pentagon Confirms deaths of three U.S. soldiers in Niger, France 24 (Oct. 5, 2017), http://www.france24.com/en/20171005-usa-niger-pentagon-confirms-deaths-three-soldiers-mali.
 S.C. Res. 2359 (Jun. 21, 2017).
 Kristen Bialik, U.S. active-duty military presence overseas is at its smallest in decades, Pew Research Center (Aug. 22, 2017), http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/08/22/u-s-active-duty-military-presence-overseas-is-at-its-smallest-in-decades/.
 Letter from the President—War Powers Resolution, President Barack Obama ( Jun.13, 2016).
 Ellen Mitchell, Army to establish special forces-like teams after Greem Beret deaths in Niger, The Hill (Oct. 9, 2017), http://thehill.com/policy/defense/354603-army-to-establish-special-forces-like-teams-after-green-beret-deaths-in-niger.