WASHINGTON — A medical evacuation helicopter reached five U.S. soldiers in Somalia on Friday roughly 20 minutes after they radioed that they were being shelled by Islamist militants, according to a military spokesman, a prompt response that underlines the disparity in U.S. military resources spread across Africa.
The four other Americans were wounded in the attack by the militant group al-Shabab.
The response to the firefight stood in stark contrast to the one after a bloody ambush in October on the Niger-Mali border in West Africa, when it took more than four hours to evacuate the wounded.
U.S. troops have found themselves fighting militants affiliated with the Islamic State and al-Qaida in several countries on the African continent.
The roughly 500 U.S. troops in Somalia have been training and fighting alongside local troops there for more than a decade. They are now buttressed by invigorated airstrike authorities under the Trump administration.
Until recently, Special Operations troops in Somalia had been fighting a noticeably different war from their counterparts in West Africa, one constrained by a smaller geography and the longtime presence of extremist groups.
For any large operation like the one in Somalia on Friday, Special Operations troops routinely pre-stage medical evacuation helicopters and have armed air support.
By contrast, in the October ambush in Niger, which was led by more than 50 militants from the group known as the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, the troops relied on contracted medical evacuation that is not as capable as the military’s. The only armed air support arrived by way of French fighter jets, more than an hour after the gunbattle started.
Four U.S. soldiers died in the ambush.
The attack Friday came toward the end of a dayslong operation in which a team of Green Berets from the 3rd Special Forces Group — the same unit that fought in the ambush in Niger — worked to clear several villages from al-Shabab control alongside 800 local troops from Somalia and Kenya.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.