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Mattis furiously demands DoD rescind Green Berets’ punishment for 2017 Niger ambush, report says

U.S. Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis meets with Philippine Secretary of National Defense Delfin Lorenzana at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., Sept. 18, 2018. (Air Force Master Sgt. Angelita M. Lawrence/Department of Defense)
December 11, 2018

A new report revealed that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis urged the reversal of punishment against junior military officials who were blamed for the 2017 Niger ambush.

During a conference with Pentagon officials last month, Mattis was reportedly angered by the blame and reprimands laid against junior officers for the deadly ambush, while their commanding officers escaped consequences, the New York Times reported Friday.

Shortly after Mattis’ remarks, the Army withdrew reprimand for junior officer Capt. Michael Perozeni, and instead issued reprimand to a senior officer.

“The slow pace of accountability has infuriated Mr. Mattis, who officials say is dissatisfied with the punishments given largely to junior officers,” the NYT report said.

Perozeni was among six personnel – four officers and two enlisted soldiers – who received General Officer Memorandum of Reprimand letters last month. The letters cited the personnel’s insufficient training and inadequate mission drills before leaving their base a day before the ambush.

Perozeni led the 11-man Green Beret team – Team 3212, Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group.

On Oct. 4, 2017, the team was operating with 30 Nigerien troops on a mission to find ISIS leader Doundoun Cheffou. They had been in Niger for a few weeks, but their training efforts were conducted with a separate counterterrorism team instead of the Nigerien troops.

After ending their unsuccessful efforts to find Cheffou, the team traveled to the nearby village of Tongo Tongo to engage with a key leader. Shortly after, they were ambushed by ISIS-affiliate militants who had been following the mission’s location for several hours.

The letter of reprimand later alleged that Perozeni was responsible for the insufficient training his team had alongside Nigerien soldiers, which contributed to the deaths of four U.S. troops and four Nigerien troops during the ambush.

Perozeni’s second-in-command, a master sergeant, was also reprimanded.

Meanwhile, two senior officers who approved the mission were free of blame. However, that changed after Mattis got involved.

After Mattis’ remarks, the Pentagon issued reprimand to one senior officer this week, and are assessing the responsibility of another senior officer.

When the 6,300-page Pentagon report was released in May, it was determined that the deaths were caused when enemy forces gained the element of surprise, and U.S. forces were outnumbered.

The report stated that “no single failure or deficiency was the sole reason for the events of 4 October 2017.”

“The direct cause of the enemy attack in Tongo Tongo is that the enemy achieved tactical surprise there, and our forces were outnumbered approximately three to one,” said Army Maj. Gen. Roger Cloutier, AFRICOM’s former chief of staff and head of the investigation, according to the Army Times.

The Pentagon report also found that the team was not authorized to go after Cheffou, despite the mission having received senior approval. Perozeni and his team were initially suspected of lying about the mission to avoid a paperwork review from higher levels of command.

Instead, the mission was reportedly mischaracterized.

“The paperwork that was submitted, the packet was identical to a previous [concept of operations]. So it was done hastily, and there was a lack of attention to detail,” Cloutier said. “It wasn’t a deliberate intent to deceive, it was lack of attention to detail.”