Speed Reads

Niger Ambush

The evolving timeline of the deadly Niger ambush still has holes

The ambush in Niger

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), after attending a classified Pentagon briefing Thursday on the Oct. 4 ambush in Niger that left four U.S. soldiers and five Nigerien troops dead, including a translator, said there are still "a hundred questions that need to be answered." Indeed, the public timeline of events is changing, leaving new questions; this summary of what we know is based on reports from The New York Times and CNN:

Oct. 3: Two groups of U.S. troops set off in southwest Niger in the night. One, made up of U.S., French, and Nigerien commandos, was on a covert mission to kill or capture an Islamic State operative; that mission was aborted due to weather. The other reconnaissance group included about eight U.S. Green Berets, three U.S. support soldiers, and 30 Nigerien troops. They were asked to remain in the area to search for information on the ISIS operative.

Oct. 4: In the morning, the second, lightly armed group dropped by the village of Tongo Tongo "to resupply and met with local elders out of courtesy," the Times says. There are differing opinions on whether villagers tipped off the local ISIS-linked militia or tried to warn the U.S-Nigerien group.

Shortly after the expedition left the village, at 11:40 a.m., about 50 militants ambushed them with heavy weapons. The U.S. soldiers immediately informed their commanders they were under attack, but didn't request backup for an hour. An aerial surveillance drone arrived within minutes, and French jets arrived an hour later. Two hours after that, French helicopters from Mali arrived to evacuate the soldiers, but they retrieved only seven Americans. The other four, apparently separated from the group, "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," the Times reports. The first team of U.S. commandos later found three of the four slain Americans.

Oct. 6: Nigerien troops found the fourth American, Sgt. La David Johnson, in the evening, reportedly a mile away from the ambush site. "American military officials still cannot explain why it took two more days and an exhaustive search by troops from all three countries" to find Johnson's body, the Times said.

Army Maj. Gen. Roger Cloutier Jr., AFRICOM chief of staff, will lead an investigation into the incident, expected to take 30-60 days.