A U.S. military investigation is underway after two special operations troops — one American and one French — were involved in a vehicle accident in Niger over the weekend.
The French service member died in the crash. The American was injured and was medically evacuated to Europe, Air Force Maj. Casey Osborne, spokesman for U.S. Special Operations Command-Africa, told Army Times over the phone.
French defense ministry officials said in a statement that the incident happened near Arlit, in northern Niger.
U.S. forces are known to have been conducting counterterrorism operations from that area.
Although The New York Times first reported that the American was driving and there may have been alcohol involved in the incident, SOC-Africa officials were unable to comment on the facts at this time.
“We’ve launched an investigation into the incident,” Osborne said. “I’m not going to speculate about whether there’s alcohol involved.”
This accident was not related to combat and occurred outside of active operations. There were only the two troops in the vehicle.
While troops in Niger are under General Order No. 1, which normally precludes the consumption of alcohol during deployments to countries like those under U.S. Central Command, troops in Africa can consume a limited amount while off duty.
“G.O. 1 in SOC-Africa is two alcoholic drinks within a 24-hour period,” Osborne said, adding that the incident occurred just after midnight, in the early hours of Sunday.
The French soldier, Brigadier-Chef Karim El Arabi, received on-site medical care before he was evacuated by helicopter to a U.S. medical center in Agadez, where he died a few hours later, according to French authorities.
The American service member received care at Agadez and was then medically evacuated to Europe for additional treatment, SOC-Africa said in a statement.
The U.S. military provides training and security assistance to the Nigerien Armed Forces, including support for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance to facilitate their efforts to target violent extremist organizations in the region.
This training includes advising and assisting the Nigeriens to increase their organic ability to bring stability and security to their country.
The Defense Department has until March to submit an evaluation of U.S. Special Operations Command's ethics and professionalism standards and programs.
The French troop was from 2nd Hussars Regiment, a light cavalry unit that conducts intelligence collection, according to the French Ministry of Defense.
The French military has been heavily involved in fighting members of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara in Mali, the group that claimed responsibility for the 2017 Niger ambush that left four Americans dead.
The Times reported that the American was a Green Beret from 3rd Special Forces Group, out of Fort Bragg, N.C. Soldiers from 3rd Group were also the ones involved in the 2017 ambush near the Niger-Mali border.
U.S. special operations troops across the combatant commands have come under greater scrutiny this fall.
Two Navy SEALs and two Marine Raiders are facing murder charges in the death of a Green Beret last year in Mali. And this year alone, members of Army Special Forces have been charged with attempting to smuggle cocaine back from Colombia, the murder of an estranged wife, the sexual assault of a family friend, and the rape of two young girls.
The most recent National Defense Authorization Act points to “growing congressional concern with misconduct, ethics, and professionalism," according to a Congressional Research Service report published in October.
The NDAA directs the office of the Pentagon to study professional and ethics standards for USSOCOM and its component commands. A report is due to the House and Senate armed services committees by March 1, according to the NDAA.
The head of Army Special Operations Command, Lt. Gen. Francis Beaudette, also wrote in a Nov. 29 memo that his troops need to reassess their behavior.
“Recent incidents in our formation have called our ethics and professionalism into question, and threaten to undermine the trust bestowed on us by the American people and our senior leadership,” he wrote in the document, obtained by Army Times. “It is incumbent upon our leadership down to the team-room level to intensify our emphasis on [Army special operations forces] values and character."