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Niger team leader was wary of mission before deadly ambush: new report

Staff Sgt. Bryan Black, Sgt. La David Johnson, Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright and Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson of the 3rd Special Forces Group were killed during an October ambush in Niger. (Twitter)
March 21, 2018

The leader of the team of American soldiers that was ambushed on Oct. 4 in Niger had warned that the team was not prepared, “ill-equipped” and not armed with the right intelligence to carry out a raid on a local militant, The New York Times exclusively reported, citing preliminary Department of Defense investigation findings from anonymous sources.

Operational Detachment – Alpha Team 3212 was on a routine, approved patrol before being redirected to an operation to go on a kill-and-capture raid for Doundoun Cheffou, an ISIS-linked militant believed to be involved in the kidnapping of an American in Mali.

One Defense Department official said the leader of Team 3212, Capt. Michael Perozeni, had planned a daylong trip to meet with tribal elders on Oct. 3, but before leaving the base in Ouallam, he received orders to reroute toward the Mali border to join in an operation with a separate assault force targeting Cheffou, The New York Times learned.

According to the preliminary findings, two Defense Department officials said senior officers in the chain of command believed that Team 3212 was going to meet with tribal leaders only, and they were not aware of a reroute to the Mali border to go after Cheffou.

The order to reroute was reportedly made by a junior officer, whom The New York Times reported was filling in for a regional commander on paternity leave. Normally, more senior leaders up the chain of command would issue orders to a unit.

“This is not consistent with the approval for this type of re-mission,” Brig. Gen. Donald Bolduc, a retired commander of the Special Operations forces in Africa, told The New York Times. “Captains do not have this authority. Plus, if the ground commander pushes back on the mission, this should be a red flag for everyone in the chain of command.”

Perozeni reportedly disagreed with the reroute, arguing that his team was ill-equipped and did not have enough intelligence for the operation. Perozeni, however, did not refuse orders to assist the assault force, according to the anonymous officials.

The mission was later scrapped due to inclement weather, and Team 3212 continued with its reconnaissance mission when intelligence officials learned that Cheffou had left his encampment on the Mali border.

Team 3212 was instructed to continue to that location anyway and collect as much information about Cheffou as they could, The New York Times reported.

Senior officers at the Africa Command headquarters and its Special Operations component in Stuttgart, Germany, and senior leaders at a Special Operations regional command in Chad were not aware of any changes to the plan, according to the preliminary report findings, the Times said.

A third anonymous Defense Department official said that a lieutenant colonel in Chad approved a helicopter raid on Cheffou and also the Team 3212 reconnaissance mission. The official also said Col. Bradley Moses, head of 3rd Special Forces Group in Germany, was aware of the two missions.

On Oct. 4, 2017, Team 3212 was ambushed by ISIS militants with rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine guns. The team was making its way back to the base in Ouallam, from Cheffou’s encampment, where the team had been redirected.

Sgt. La David Johnson, Staff Sgt. Bryan Black, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson and Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright were killed in the ambush along with several Nigerien troops. Perozeni and Sgt. First Class Brent Bartels were wounded.