U.S. Soldiers Who Were Killed In The Niger Ambush Became Separated From The Rest Of The Group

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Three weeks ago, four U.S. soldiers were killed during an ambush in Niger by about 50 attackers (assumed to be from an ISIS-affiliated group). Most of the reporting surrounding the attack has centered upon President Trump’s anger after his messy phone call with Sgt. La David Johnson’s widow. As for the attack itself, more questions than answers have persisted for weeks, and Sen. John McCain (as head of the Armed Service Committee) demanded details.

On Thursday evening, McCain spoke with reporters after a classified briefing to reveal more about findings in the Pentagon’s investigation. Although all of the details aren’t in yet, officials now know more than they did during last week’s briefing by General Joseph Dunford. The New York Times rounds up everything, including how the soldiers who were killed became separated from the rest of the unit, which totaled a dozen members of an Army Special Forces team and around 30 Nigerien soldiers. Here’s more:

Their squad mates immediately alerted commanders that they were under attack — then called for help nearly an hour later, as a top Pentagon official said this week — and ground forces from Niger’s army and French Mirage jets were both dispatched.

About two hours later, the firefight tapering off, French helicopters from nearby Mali swooped in to the rescue on the rolling wooded terrain. But they retrieved only seven of the 11 Americans. The four others were inexplicably left behind, no longer in radio contact and initially considered missing in action by the Pentagon, a status that officials say raises the possibility they were still alive when the helicopters took off without them.

From there, McCain reported that the timeline is still a confusing one. Once Joint Special Operations Command troops were told of the ambush, they were informed of the missing U.S. soldiers, which presents a telling contradiction against earlier reports from officials:

That calls into question Pentagon officials’ earlier assertions that either the Nigerien forces or French helicopters were with the bodies of at least three of the soldiers until they were recovered — an insistence that underscores the mantra that no soldier is left behind. “The U.S. military does not leave our troops behind,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said last week.

Further, the Pentagon still doesn’t know why Johnson’s body wasn’t discovered (in a remote area by Nigerien troops) until 48 hours after the ambush. Nor does anyone know how the mission shifted from what was considered a low-risk operation into a chaotic ambush by hostile parties. Yet officials do confirm that U.S. troops and their Nigerien counterparts were lightly armed and riding in unarmed vehicles. It’s understood that one villager informed the unit that “an important Islamic State” jihadist was nearby, but there’s still plenty of mystery remaining on whether villagers may have “tipped off” ISIS militants about the U.S. and Nigerien operation.

For his part, the Arizona senator isn’t even close to satisfied with what he disclosed. McCain told reporters that he had around “100 questions” that went unanswered, and the Pentagon is stressing that at least 30 more days will be needed to complete the investigation. However, senators who spoke with the NY Times expected the process to take 60 days.

(Via New York Times)