Military Probe Finds Deadly Niger Mission Lacked Proper Approval
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by Countable | 3.6.18
UPDATE: March 6, 2018: A military investigation into the Niger attack that left four American service members dead was not approved by senior command.
According to the Associated Press, the four members of the Army Special Forces team set out after Doundou Chefou, an Islamic State militant suspected of involvement in the kidnapping an American aid worker—“without outlining that intent to higher-level commanders.”
However, the AP notes that the investigation “doesn’t point to that failure as a cause of the deadly ambush.”
Four U.S. soldiers and four Nigerian troops were killed in the October 4th gun battle against as many as 100 Islamic State-linked militants.
Countable's original story appears below.
What We Know – And Don’t – About the Ambush in Niger
What’s the story?
News of the ambush in Niger that left four U.S. soldiers dead has been slow to emerge, and many details about the attack remain murky. So much is not known, in fact, that members of Congress are demanding answers and the FBI has joined the investigation. Here’s a roundup of what we know, and are still waiting to learn, about the attack:
What we know
First, a bit of background about Niger and why the U.S. military is in the area.
Background on U.S. involvement in Niger
Niger is a landlocked African country bordered by Libya, Algeria, Chad, Mali, and Nigeria. Niger, along with Chad and Mali, is considered a key component in war on terror: Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State have both established transit routes through the country, enabling them to transport money, and fighters, between the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa.
In 2013, President Obama announced he was deploying 100 troops to the region to "provide support for intelligence collection" and “facilitate intelligence sharing” with French and other allied-forces in the region. Not much else is known about U.S. involvement.
On October 4, 2017, twelve U.S. soldiers with the Army’s 3rd Special Forces Group were accompanying 30-40 Nigerian troops on an on an undisclosed mission near Tongo Tongo. The servicemen met with leaders and collected supplies, then headed home. On the way, they were ambushed by nearly 50 militants from ISIS of the Greater Sahara.
A firefight ensued, and 30 minutes later a French military aircraft arrived at the scene. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis elaborated that "the French response included armed fighter aircraft, armed helicopter gunships, a medevac helo that lifted out our wounded."
The French military aircraft, however, did not fire on the ISIS militants. As the Washington Post reported, "there are different accounts as to why. Reuters reported that the fighting was happening at close quarters, so the French aircraft couldn't intervene. Others have said that Niger forbids air strikes on its soil."
Once the fighting had ended, an aircraft retrieved the remains of three U.S. soldiers: Staff Sgts. Bryan Black, Jeremiah Johnson, and Dustin Wright.
The search for Sgt. La David Johnson
At this point, as CBS News reported, "Pentagon officials believed that Sgt. La David Johnson was still alive somewhere." A search-and-rescue mission involving U.S., French, and Nigerian troops was launched. “For several hours, they tracked a locator beacon, which then became intermittent and finally faded out.” 48 hours later, they recovered the body of Sgt. Johnson.
This raised the "the awful possibility that an American soldier was left behind." But Pentagon Lt Gen. Kenneth McKenzie rejected these claims, saying:
"I'll tell you, categorically, that from the moment of contact, no one was left behind, neither U.S.—our partner Nigerian forces or French forces were on the ground actively searching for this soldier."
What we don’t know
On Thursday, Mattis said, "The loss of our troops is under investigation."
Some of the questions – and criticisms – being raised about the Niger attack include:
Critics are asking if enough precautions were taken. As the Post reported, "The troops were armed only with rifles and traveled in unarmored pickup trucks. There was no U.S. drone flying overhead to track the soldiers. French officials told Reuters they felt the U.S. military acted without enough intelligence or contingency planning."
As CBS reported, "the first American aircraft to arrive was an unarmed helicopter operated by a U.S. contractor who was hired to provide support to the 1,000 American troops operating across a country the size of Texas."
CBS also noted that "one question for which there is no answer yet is whether warning signs that an ambush was in the works were missed." The Pentagon has said that an American reconnaissance aircraft was flying nearby, but it wasn’t called in to patrol the area until the ambush had started. Lt. Gen McKenzie addressed these concerns as well, saying, "We don't live in a perfect environment where everything is available and visible all the time. It's a difficult environment. Sub-Saharan Africa's a very difficult place to operate."
How we’re finding answers
The Department of Defense is currently conducting an initial review of the deadly ambush.
But John McCain (R-AZ), who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, told reporters on Thursday that he might not wait for the DoD to finish its investigation.
"That's not how the system works. We're coequal branches of government," McCain said. "We should be informed at all times." Getting this information, the senator said, “may require a subpoena."
"That's why we're called the Senate Armed Services Committee. It's because we have oversight of our military. So we deserve to have all the information."
McCain is scheduled to meet with Mattis on Friday.
But asked on Thursday whether the administration was being up front about the ambush, McCain bluntly answered: "No."
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked if President Donald Trump was satisfied with the information he himself has received on the attack.
"I believe they're still looking into the details of that," Sanders said. “But I don't think that the President can ever be satisfied when there's loss of life from men and women in uniform."
What do you want to know?
What questions do you still have about the ambush? What would you like the Senate Armed Services Committee to look into? Should the U.S. be in Niger? Should they commit more troops? Hit Take Action, tell your reps, then comment below.
Everything we know about the Niger attack that left 4 U.S. soldiers dead –The Washington Post
(Photo Credit: tome213 / iStockphoto)
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