WASHINGTON — The Pentagon on Thursday will release the final report on the Niger attack that killed four Americans last October, concluding that the Army Special Forces team did not get required command approval for the initial risky mission to go after a high-level insurgent linked to the Islamic State group.
Defense officials said they will lay out how the mission unfolded, leading to the gruesome ambush, and then explain what is being done to correct the problems brought to light by the incident. Families of the fallen troops have been briefed on the investigation, including details of their loved ones’ final moments as they battled as many as 100 insurgents in a fierce firefight.
“The whole thing was a screwed-up mess,” said Arnold Wright, father of Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright of Lyons, Georgia, who was killed in the attack. He said he’s concerned that the Army may be pinning the blame on lower-ranking soldiers and not accepting responsibility high enough up the chain of command.
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.
The Associated Press reported in early March that the team received information about the location of Doundou Chefou, who was suspected of involvement in the kidnapping an American aid worker, and acted on what they considered was a fleeting chance to get him. But the team did not disclose that mission to higher-level commanders, and instead outlined a lower-risk mission to meet with tribal leaders, U.S. officials told the AP. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the investigation ahead of its release.
The report is expected to detail missteps in the mission’s approval process and whether that contributed at all to the ambush that erupted many hours later. Its findings will put renewed focus on U.S. military activity in Africa, particularly the role of special operations forces who’ve been advising and working with local troops on the continent for years. Extremists linked to ISIS and al-Qaida carry out increasingly bold attacks in West Africa’s vast Sahel region.
The investigation was led by U.S. Africa Command’s chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Roger Cloutier Jr. Officials spent months trying to unravel the complex incident, conducting dozens of interviews across the U.S., Europe and Africa.
The Pentagon will also unveil recommended changes, including greater oversight to ensure proper mission approval and risk assessment, as well as improved security measures, more heavily armored vehicles, and better weapons and training, U.S. officials said.
Killed in the attack were: Army Sgt. La David T. Johnson, 25, of Miami Gardens, Florida; 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. Four Nigerien troops were killed and two American soldiers and eight Nigerien forces were wounded.
Bynum reported from Savannah, Georgia.