An investigation conducted by the Pentagon into a deadly attack that killed four American service members in the West African nation of Niger last October concludes that the troops didn’t get approval from senior commanders to carry out a mission designed to capture a high-ranking ISIS soldier.
The report concludes the lack of permission is not the cause of a deadly attack that took the lives of the four American service members, along with four Nigerian, troops however.
U.S. and Nigerian officials say troops learned of an opportunity to capture or kill a militant by the name of Doundou Chefou, is suspected of being involved in the kidnapping of an America aid worker.
It was initially believed that the team set out on a mission to meet with local leaders, then met up with a second unit looking for Chefou. It now appears that the group set out looking for Chefou initially, without clarifying that intent to senior commanders.
The group’s intent, officials say, was to either capture Chefou or learn the whereabouts of the American hostage.
It’s not yet known where Chefou was believed to be. Before arriving there, however, the U.S. and Nigerian troops learned he was no longer there. The team continued to the site, hoping to pick up information on his whereabouts.
A Nigerian official said the troops did in fact reach that final destination and found food and a motorcycle. The team destroyed the motorcycle, he said, then headed home. On the way back, they stopped in the village of Tongo Tongo, about 108 miles north of Niamey, Niger’s capital, where the soldiers were stationed, to get water and supplies.
The U.S. report states that the troops stayed in Tongo Tongo longer than normal, but notes that there is no significant reason to believe the location of the soldiers was betrayed by the villagers.
Shortly after leaving Tongo Tongo the troops were ambushed by the ISIS militants. An ISIS leader in the area, Abou Walid Sahraoui, learned that the team had visited Chefou’s last known location, and sent 20 ISIS fighters to pursue them. He subsequently sent a larger group of militants. It’s believed the soldiers were attacked by as many as 100 ISIS and ISIS-linked fighters traveling by vehicles and carrying small arms and grenade launchers.
Army Sgt. La David T. Johnson, 25, of Miami Gardens, Florida, became separated from the team. He would be killed but his body wasn’t recovered for two days.
Three other Americans, Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black, 35, of Puyallup, Washington; Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, 39, of Springboro, Ohio; and Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright, 29, of Lyons, Georgia, were killed. Black and Wright were Green Berets.
Two American soldiers and eight Nigerien soldiers were wounded in the attack.
The troops called for help, using the code words “Broken Arrow” which denotes attack and then shut down their radios, as is procedure, to prevent the enemy from using them. The end in communication however, meant they couldn’t immediately be located by French aircraft sent to help them.
Footage of the battle has recently been released as ISIS propaganda online.
Officials say the lack of proper approvals meant that senior commanders in Chad, or at Africa Command’s headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, lacked a comprehensive picture of what the unit was doing or trying to accomplish. Had they had a better idea, they may have better equipped the troops or added more personnel, making the operation more capable of sustaining a fight.