Niger ambush resulted from multiple failures, Pentagon says

U.S. halts most combat missions in Africa in response to findings on deadly Niger ambush

Pentagon officials revealed more details about the deadly ambush of USA special operations soldiers in Niger that occurred last fall, saying Thursday that issues with training, communication, and mission readiness contributed in some way to the incident. Gen. Roger Cloutier Jr. told reporters during a Pentagon press conference.

The report summary reveals the team of soldiers - including the men who died - fought bravely alongside their Nigerien counterparts, fending off the attack, which lasted almost six hours, and recommends officials consider recognition for valorous acts during the engagement. Four Nigerien troops were also killed, and two American soldiers and eight Nigerien forces were wounded.

"All four soldiers killed in action sustained wounds that were either immediately fatal or rapidly fatal", the summary of the report said.

Investigators from U.S. Africa Command said that the 12 members of the team, that had arrived in Niger just weeks before, had never really trained as a full unit prior to their deployment.

The Pentagon did not specifically blame anyone for the ambush but reportedly indicated three individuals who could face disciplinary action. He did not name them.

"There will be awards", Waldhauser said.

"I have deep questions on whether the military is following instructions and limitations that Congress has laid down about the mission of these troops in Africa, and I've had those questions, and I think this hearing raised a lot more in a pretty explosive way", Sen.

US forces reportedly didn't have time to train together before they deployed and did not do preparatory battle drills with their Nigerien partners.

"The investigation identifies individual, organizational and institutional failures and deficiencies that contributed to the tragic events of 4 October 2017 ... no single failure or deficiency was the sole reason for the events", according to an eight-page summary of the report.

Counterterror missions of assault forces, by contrast, including so-called "kill-or-capture" operations, would have to have been ordered by senior military officers since they require reconnaissance and backup forces.

The language used for the initial mission had been cut and pasted from previous operations and "a lack of attention to detail in quality control and quality assurance", together with inadequate approvals, "all contributed to a general lack of situational awareness and command oversight at every echelon", the report summary states.

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"Sgt. La David Johnson died actively engaging the enemy", said Marine Corps Gen. Thomas D. Waldhauser, commander of U.S. Africa Command. Most are involved in the construction of a new air base there.

But the team leader and his immediate supervisor submitted a different mission to their higher command, saying they were simply going out to meet tribal leaders.

The briefing, he said, gave the impression "that the captain, the team leader, that he mischaracterized the mission" as one to reach out to local leaders rather than a mission to target the insurgent.

"It wasn't a deliberate intent to deceive". "It was lack of attention to detail".

However, the United States team commander had "inaccurately characterized" the nature of the mission in order to get it approved at a low level instead of requesting permission from battalion-level commanders based in Chad.

And prior to setting out on the operation, the USA team failed to conduct pre-mission rehearsals or battle drills with their Nigerien counterparts, the report found.

Investigators said they were unable to determine whether the IS-linked fighters got any help from villagers in Tongo Togo.

Soon after leaving Tongo Tongo, about 120 miles north of Niger's capital, they were ambushed by Islamic State-linked militants.

The report concludes that although the enemy fighters can move freely around the village area, "there is not enough evidence to conclude that the villagers of Tongo Tongo willingly (without duress) aid and support them". The investigation found there was insufficient evidence to conclude that the villagers were complicit in the ambush.

Cloutier said it appears insurgents attempted to take away the bodies of three of the killed American troops - Black, Wright and Jeremiah Johnson - but fled when French fighter jets buzzed the area.

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