Niger: US Mission Was Overwhelmed by Unprecedented IS Force

Members of the 3rd Special Forces Group 2nd battalion salute the casket of U.S. Army Sgt. La David Johnson at his burial service in Hollywood Florida on Oct. 21. Johnson and three other U.S. soldiers were killed in an ambush in Niger on Oct. 4

Niger: US Mission Was Overwhelmed by Unprecedented IS Force

Multiple failures of protocol were involved in the attack that killed four US service members in Niger last October, reported a Pentagon investigation, which blamed the casualties on insufficient training and preparation for the mission as well as the team's decision to pursue a high-level ISIS target without proper approval. Gen. Roger Cloutier Jr. instructed reporters throughout a Pentagon information convention.

The summary lays out a confusing chain of events that unfolded on October 3-4, ending in a lengthy, brutal firefight as 46 USA and Nigerien forces battled for their lives against more than 100 enemy fighters.

From left, Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black, 35, of Puyallup, Wash.; Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, 39, of Springboro, Ohio; Sgt.

Their mission on October 3 was to "find/fix and, if possible, capture" a key member of a group calling itself the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, the summary states.

Defense Secretary James Mattis has tasked the Army and U.S. Special Operations Command with ensuring that commanders in a supervisory and oversight role are held accountable for leadership failures leading up to the ambush - including failures not mentioned in the investigation, said Marine Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, head of AFRICOM.

Waldhauser said the report, which has not yet been made public in full, singles out three individuals whose actions could be faulted.

The abstract lays out a complicated chain of occasions that unfolded October 3-4, ending within the ambush, and factors to "particular person, organizational, and institutional failures and deficiencies that contributed to the tragic occasions".

As a result of the incident, the U.S. military has ordered a review of training for special forces soldiers working with foreign partners and policies on pre-deployment training, and U.S. Africa Command is seeking to create clear guidance on the planning and approval of military operations.

Insufficient training and preparation, command mistakes, lack of attention to detail and an outnumbered force taken by surprise in an attack all contributed to the loss of the soldiers, according to an eight-page report summarizing an internal investigation.

US forces reportedly did not have time to coach collectively earlier than they deployed and didn't do preparatory battle drills with their Nigerien companions. But the team leader and his immediate supervisor submitted a different mission to their higher command, saying they were 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", Cloutier stated.

"Sgt. La David Johnson, first of all, died actively engaging the enemy", Cloutier said.

The report also states the mission didn't get required senior command approval.

"The [French] Mirage jets were not able to drop ordnance due to the confusion on the ground, but low-level passes over the fight caused the [Islamic State] terrorists to break action and retreat", the Pentagon said. The troops, however, were later sent to collect intelligence at a location where Chefou had been, and then they stopped at the village of Tongo Tongo for supplies before heading back to their base.

Still, Cloutier and other USA military officials insist the team's mischaracterization of its intentions had little to do with the ambush at Tongo Tongo, as the members headed back to their base having found only an empty campsite.

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

The entire thing was a screwed-up mess.

One of those killed in combat was Staff Sergeant Dustin Wright, 29.

The body of La David Johnson was found at a second site, near a tree, hundreds of meters away, where he was killed after he and two Nigerien soldiers had been separated from the rest of the group.

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