The Pentagon has stepped up operations in Africa in recent years, insisting that a greater U.S. military presence is necessary to help counter threats from militants such as those who took hostages at a hotel in Mali.
But U.S. Africa Command, which oversees the operations, has only a handful of permanent bases and fewer than 5,000 U.S. troops on the continent.
Most are sent on short-term deployments to help train African military forces or to conduct targeted drone strikes against militants from mostly Islamist groups linked to Al Qaeda or Islamic State.
Most U.S. forces that operate in Africa are based in Europe or back in the United States.
Only 22 Defense Department personnel, including civilians, were in Bamako, Mali’s capital, during the hostage crisis Friday, according to the Pentagon.
They include about 10 assigned to a United Nations peacekeeping force, and others attached to the U.S. Embassy.
Mark R. Cheadle, U.S. Africa Command spokesman, said U.S. forces did not directly participate in the hostage rescue at the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako.
However, five Defense Department personnel were in the hotel when the militants attacked. All the Americans exited safely.
Cheadle said one member of a U.S. special operations team helped Malian first responders move civilians to safety as Malian forces worked to clear the hotel of gunmen.
Another U.S. service member passed information to French forces from a nearby joint operations base, Defense officials said.
The U.S. military launched an unarmed MQ-9 Reaper drone, apparently from neighboring Niger, to provide surveillance. But the hostage rescue had ended by the time the drone arrived, officials said.
The Marine Corps has a crisis response force at Moron Air Base in southern Spain, but they were not deployed to help.
In 2014, the Pentagon deployed unarmed surveillance drones to Niger, along with around 120 military personnel, to help search for militants in northern Mali and other remote parts of west Africa.
The Pentagon also has sent troops to Nigeria to train its military to fight Boko Haram, a militant Islamist group that has killed thousands of villagers and controls large areas of northern Nigeria.
Small teams of U.S. special operations troops also are assigned to help hunt for Joseph Kony, a notorious warlord believed to be hiding in a lawless area between Sudan and South Sudan.
Around 2,000 U.S. troops are stationed at a U.S. base in Djibouti in east Africa, and around 75 are deployed in Somalia, where they are assisting an African Union forces that is battling Shabab rebels.
Using drones and small U.S. special operations teams, the U.S. has carried out numerous raids against suspected militants in Somalia and Libya in recent years.
The Pentagon also deployed medical and support troops to assist overwhelmed governments in west Africa during the 2014 Ebola epidemic.