Fallen U.S. Troops Separated from Unit in Niger
By Paloma Delgado
Earlier this month, an Army Special Forces team and 30 troops were ambushed by militants in Niger, located in West Africa. The group was attacked by some 50 ISIS-affiliated fighters. Squad mates notified commanders that they were under attack and immediately a team of French helicopters was dispatched to come to the rescue. Only seven of the 11 Americans were rescued, leaving four men behind, considered missing in action.
A gun battle, lasting a few hours, left the four Americans dead and two others wounded. Five Nigerian soldiers were also killed. US-Nigerian army forces killed 20 militants on October 4th.
The team had requested back up an hour after the ambush began. A U.S. drone was sent to provide aid but was unarmed because U.S. drones in Niger are not allowed to carry arms, a U.S. official told CNN.
The bodies of three dead Americans as well as the team’s interpreter were found a few hours after the wounded had been evacuated. However, military officials are unable to explain why it took another two days to to find the body of the fourth soldier, Sgt. La David T. Johnson.
All of these unanswered questions and changes to the chronology of the events have caused immense frustration among members of Congress who desire answers.
Some of these questions include the mission’s changing goals, how the soldiers became separated from one another, the course of action taken to provide support to the team and the extensive search for Johnson’s body.
According to CNN, one Nigerian soldier explained that the US-Nigerian unit was inadequately armed and unprepared for patrol in such a high-risk area.
“I was surprised that the Americans would go out into the zone with such a light convoy and no air cover, no drones to keep watch over them,” the soldier said.
On the night of October 3rd, two groups went off in southwest Niger. One, a team made up of American, French and Nigerian commandos on a mission code known as Obsidian Nomad, to capture and kill an Islamic State operative. The other group was made up of eight Army Special Forces, three American soldiers and one interpreter, in addition to 30 Nigerian soldiers on a surveillance mission.
Despite the bad weather that hindered the mission, the second group was asked to remain in the region to further investigate.
On the morning of October 4, the team made their way into the village of Tongo Tongo in order to resupply. As they made their way back to the base, they were met by some 50 Islamic State militants carrying machine guns.
Up until recently, many Islamic State fighters have fled to Africa after American based operations throughout the Middle East.
“The more we succeed in the Middle East, the more we’re going to see the snakes run to Africa,” Senator Thom Tillis, Republican of North Carolina, said on Thursday. “We’ve got to be prepared to advise and assist the nations there that are willing to work with us.”
Senator John McCain had said that Pentagon officials need 30 days to wrap up their inquiry of the situation, who have criticized the Defense Department for failing to answer questions and provide details.
Some lawmakers have called for hearings to investigate what went wrong in the operation.
“I need to be able to look families in the eye and explain what our mission is, what mistakes were made in this incident, who made them and why,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut.