A sidearm once belonging to an American soldier killed in Niger was recovered by French troops during an operation Wednesday near the Mali-Niger border, two US defense officials tell CNN.
One official said that a Glock 19 handgun recovered by French forces had a serial number matching the side arm issued to Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, a member of the ill-fated Green Beret-led team ambushed by ISIS-linked fighters in Niger in October of 2017.
A military grade laser sight with a serial number matching the Operational Detachment-A team that Johnson belonged to was also found.
The October ambush left four American soldiers dead, launched a Pentagon investigation and raised questions as to the nature of the US military presence in Niger.
The investigation found that a series of failures and deficiencies, including a lack of adequate training, contributed to the ambush that resulted in a Green Beret-led team being outgunned and overrun by more than 100 ISIS fighters.
The official who spoke to CNN said that this was not the first time that equipment belonging to the ambushed team had been found and that vehicles have been recovered during previous operations.
Night vision goggles were also recovered, although the official said the origin of the goggles had not been determined. The equipment is still in possession of the French military.
The US has some 800 troops in Niger, although the Pentagon recently signed off on plans to reduce counterterrorism forces in Africa. Officials have told CNN that troops in Niger and elsewhere in West Africa would face the bulk of those cuts.
France has deployed thousands of troops across northwest Africa, in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso. A senior defense official previously told CNN that the presence of French forces in Africa made US military planners more comfortable about reducing US troops in the region.
The French ministry of defense issued a statement Thursday saying that its forces had conducted a military operation Wednesday 45km east of the town of Akabar, Mali, which sits very close to the border with Niger. The ministry also said that French aircraft had carried out a series of airstrikes targeting militants equipped with motorcycles.
It is not clear if that operation is related to the recovery of the equipment. A spokesperson for the French embassy in Washington declined to comment.