The Naval Criminal Investigative Service is probing whether a pair of Navy SEALs were responsible for the strangling death of Staff Sgt. Logan J. Melgar, an Army Green Beret reportedly found dead on June 4 while deployed to Mali, the New York Times first reported on Oct. 29.
Melgar, a 34-year-old Texas native and Army Special Forces soldier who saw two tours of Afghanistan since joining the Army in 2001, was discovered in the embassy housing he split with “several other Special Operations forces” in the country's capital of Bamako, according to the Times, which reports that U.S. Africa Command “immediately suspected foul play, and dispatched an investigating officer to the scene within 24 hours.”
AFRICOM did not announce Melgar's death following the discovery of his body in Bamako, despite commands' habit of announcing both combat and non-combat deaths. The investigation into the circumstances surrounding his death remained secret until Oct. 29, when the New York Times reported that NCIS took on the probe from AFRICOM on Sept. 25 (NCIS declined to comment when reached for comment by Task & Purpose).
The two Naval Special Warfare operators, according to the Times, “were flown out of Mali soon after the episode and were placed on administrative leave.” U.S. Special Operations Command and Naval Special Warfare Command did not immediately respond to request for comment from Task & Purpose.
News of the investigation comes amid a renewed focus from Department of Defense planners, lawmakers, and the American public regarding U.S. military operations in Africa following the Oct. 4 ambush that left four soldiers with the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group dead.
The Army has been actively engaged in Mali since at least Feb. 20, 2013, when President Barack Obama notified Congress that the Pentagon would deploy 40 troops to Niger to set up a drone base, and facilitate intelligence-gathering for French forces locked in a grueling battle with al Qaeda-affiliated militants in the neighboring country.
While the Times reported that Army soldiers were deployed in Mali “to help with training and counterterrorism missions, a 2013 U.S. Army Africa slide distributed shortly after Obama's notification to Congress did show Mali among the 13 countries receiving advisory and training support from the DoD as part of the African-led counterterror campaign there. The latest update to the Defense Manpower Data Center shows just 12 conventional active-duty military personnel stationed there, although special operations forces are often excluded from the DoD database for operational security purposes.
“A small team of U.S. service members are in Mali at the request of the Malian government to coordinate and share information with international counterparts as they continue to counter Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) to bring stability to the region,” an AFRICOM spokesman told Task & Purpose.
UPDATE: This article was updated to include responses from NCIS and AFRICOM. (Updated 10/30/2017; 9:56 am EST)