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Series of ‘deficiencies’ led to deadly Niger ambush, Pentagon report finds

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)
May 10, 2018

The Defense Department on Thursday released its report on the investigation into the deadly Niger ambush that killed four U.S. soldiers in October 2017, and it found that a series of failures and “deficiencies” led to the event; the report did not assign individual, direct blame.

Americans Sgt. La David Johnson, Staff Sgt. Bryan Black, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson and Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright were killed on Oct. 4, 2017, when ambushed by ISIS-linked militants near the village of Tongo Tongo, more than 100 miles north of the country’s capital.

In its report, which was released to the public Thursday but had been previously reported on after some of its findings were initially leaked, the Pentagon said the immediate cause of death of the soldiers was “tactical surprise by a far larger enemy force.”

“All four soldiers killed in action sustained wounds that were either immediately fatal or rapidly fatal, and were deceased by the time the initial site was accessible to personnel recovery assets,” the report states. “All four soldiers were killed in action before French or Nigerien responding forces arrived in Tongo Tongo.”

On the series of “deficiencies” that led to the ambush, the report said:

“Although the report details the compounding impact of tactical and operational decisions, no single failure or deficiency was the sole reason for the events of 4 October 2017. To the extent this report highlights tactical decisions made by Soldiers in the heat of battle, it should not be overlooked that American and Nigerien forces fought courageously on 4 October 2017 despite being significantly outnumbered by the enemy.”

The report includes recommendations by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to improve chain-of-command protocols, as well as training.

SOCOM (Special Operations Command), AFRICOM (Africa Command) and the Army will be given roughly 10 “primary directives” by Mattis and will have four months to make efforts to solve problems in the report.

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.

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

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 report findings.

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.

There are roughly 800 American troops stationed in Niger and a $110 million drone base is being built there.