Niger Ambush
May 10, 2018

A Pentagon report released Thursday said multiple failures were to blame for an ambush in Niger last year that resulted in the death of four U.S. soldiers and five Nigerien troops, but concluded "no single failure or deficiency was the sole reason for the events." It instead cites "individual, organizational, and institutional failures and deficiencies," ABC News reports.

The U.S. and Nigerien forces were ambushed by ISIS fighters on Oct. 4, 2017, after they stopped in Tongo Tongo for water and supplies. The U.S. soldiers immediately informed their commanders they were under attack, but didn't request backup for an hour. 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 New York Times reports. The Pentagon report, which describes the disastrous retreat, clarifies that the American soldiers "were never captured alive by the enemy."

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), a member of the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees, was briefed on the report with other senators Tuesday. He told CNN earlier this week, "I believe that the troops who were sadly killed in Niger in October of 2017 were engaged in a mission that they were not authorized by law to participate in and that they were not trained to participate in. And that is a significant reason that they tragically lost their lives." Jeva Lange

March 6, 2018

The U.S. military has wrapped up its investigation into the Oct. 4 raid in Niger that ended with four U.S. service members and four Nigerien troops dead after an ambush by Islamic State-linked fighters. The investigation found that the Army Special Forces team did not have the required approval for the mission from senior commanders in Chad or Germany, meaning U.S. commanders could not accurately assess its risk, several U.S. officials tell The Associated Press. The report will not identify a single point of failure in the mission, and it doesn't blame the mission's failure on the lack of authorization, the officials say.

Initially, the mission was reported to have shifted from a meeting with local Nigerien leaders to providing assistance to a raid searching for militant Doundou Chefou, but officials now say the Special Forces team was targeting Chefou from the start. The U.S. and Nigerien forces were ambushed by ISIS fighters after they stopped in Tongo Tongo for water and supplies, and the report said there is no compelling evidence that anyone in the village tipped off the ISIS fighters to the Americans' presence in the area. The head of U.S. Africa Command, Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, is expected to recommend greater oversight of missions in Africa. He testifies before a House committee on Tuesday. Peter Weber

October 28, 2017

U.S. military officials wanted to have an armed drone supporting the team ambushed in Niger earlier this month, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday, but their request was denied by Washington. Unnamed sources told the Journal the rejection came via "a chain of approval that snakes through the Pentagon, State Department, and the Nigerien government," and the decision raises "questions about whether those forces had adequate protection against the dangers of their mission."

Meanwhile, an ABC News story also published Friday night offered new details of how the attack played out. The group of American and Nigerien troops who were ambushed were in a convoy of about seven armed and unarmed vehicles when they were attacked by more than 50 ISIS-linked fighters, ABC reports.

The soldiers at one point split up to retrieve an unarmed Land Rover which held three of the four Americans who were killed in the fight. Sgt. La David Johnson, the fourth soldier killed, gave machine gun cover to the troops who turned back for the Land Rover before he was separated from the rest, possibly after falling out of a pick-up truck. Bonnie Kristian

October 27, 2017

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. Peter Weber

See More Speed Reads