U.S. Army Spc. Preston Seach, assigned to the East Africa Response Force (EARF), Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, participates in an emergency deployment response exercise, East Africa, May 17, 2019. (U.S. Air Force/Tech. Sgt. Chris Hibben)

Editor's Note: This article by Richard Sisk originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Monday that U.S. strategic goals could include drawing down troops in Africa despite French pleas that American support is "critical" to countering the growing strength of terror groups in the region with links to the Islamic State and al Qaeda.

"My aim is to adjust our footprint in many places," including Africa, to free up forces for a "great power competition" against China and Russia, he said at a joint Pentagon news conference with French Defense Minister Florence Parly.

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Green Berets assigned to 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) conduct shooting drills at a Mauritanian range during Flintlock 2019, Feb. 15, 2019 in Atar, Mauritania. (U.S. Army/Sgt. Steven Lewis)

The United States plans on ramping up counterterrorism efforts in the Sahel region of Africa in response to an alarming rise in violent extremism there, Foreign Policy reports.

The Sahel includes Niger, where four U.S. Army Special Forces personnel were killed in a deadly October 2017 ambush carried out by Islamic extremists.

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Award citations issued to the special operators who fought through an Oct. 4, 2017 ambush in Niger shed new light on the heroism that U.S. troops showed against an overwhelming force of ISIS fighters.

Army Sgt. Dustin M. Wright, Sgt. La David T. Johnson, Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black and Sgt. 1st Class Jeremiah W. Johnson were all killed when their convoy was ambushed by more than 100 ISIS fighters. The rest of the team narrowly survived the ISIS attack and being fired on briefly by their rescuers. Subsequent investigations have found problems with how the mission was planned and how much training special operators had before deploying to Africa.

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Two commanders involved with the deadly 2017 Niger ambush are reportedly still eligible for promotion, and the Pentagon has no problem with that.

Four soldiers were killed on Oct. 4, 2017 when their convoy was attacked by more than 100 ISIS fighters near the village of Tongo Tongo: Army Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black, Sgt. 1st Class Jeremiah W. Johnson, Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright, and Sgt. La David T. Johnson.

U.S. Africa Command's investigation into the incident found serious problems with how their team was trained before and after arriving in theater and how the mission was planned. Their commanders also did not adequately work with French and Nigerien forces for casualty evacuation planning prior to the mission, according to a redacted copy of the investigation, which was provided to Task & Purpose.

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No more commanders will be punished for the deadly October 2017 ambush in Niger, in which four soldiers were killed, Politico first reported on Tuesday.

Army Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright, and Sgt. La David T. Johnson were killed when their convoy was attacked by an overwhelming force of ISIS fighters near the village of Tongo, Tongo, Niger nearly two years ago.

They were part of a group of U.S. and Nigerien forces that set out in unarmored vehicles for a reconnaissance mission that morphed into a disastrous attempt to capture a terrorist.

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan has accepted the findings of a review that he ordered into the incident, which did not recommend that any high level commanders involved in the planning and execution of the mission be disciplined, according to Politico.

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Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) is urging senators to vote against Patrick Shanahan's nomination as defense secretary, claiming Shanahan has mishandled an investigation into a 2017 ambush in Niger that left four U.S. soldiers dead.

"He should be worried about what lessons we could have learned from this Niger ambush and also who were the general officers that were responsible for making these big mistakes that cost these men's lives," Gallego told Task & Purpose on Thursday. "We as a public have a right to know that and he is part of the problem and not the solution."

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