In a tense press Pentagon media briefing that appears to have raised more questions than it answered, AFRICOM Commander General Thomas Waidhauser and Chief of Staff Major General Roger Cloutier, AFRICOM chief of staff and lead investigating officer, briefed a packed briefing room on the highlights of a seven-month investigation into the October 2017 ambush of U.S. forces in Tongo Tongo, Niger
Military investigators found a wide-range of individual and “institutional failures”—decision-making and authorizations made by low-level officers on the ground, little command oversight, flaws in pre-deployment training, a lack of integration with unit partners in Niger, and insufficient force protection capabilities—concluding that “no single failure or deficiency was the sole reason” for the deaths of four U.S. special operators—Sgt. 1st Class Jeremiah Johnson, Staff Sgt. Bryan Black, Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright and Sgt. La David Johnson—killed on October 4, 2017.
While only an eight-page summary of the full 6,000 page classified report—compiled over three months between 143 interviews of witnesses and documentary, photographic, audio, and video evidence was released to the media and public—Congress and next-of-kin have been briefed on all of the findings.
There is no timeline for the release of the full report, according to General Waldhauser.
Generals Waidhauser and Cloutier repeatedly underscored the courage of the special forces team as “acts of bravery” and noted that any decisions regarding individual discipline or valor awards will be determined at a
“later date” by the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) at the direction of Secretary of Defense James Mattis
In the meantime, Secretary Mattis has directed the Special Operations Command (SOCOM) to “review training, operating procedures, operational-level planning and other relevant factors, and he has directed the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness to review DoD policies that adversely affect units’ cohesion and lethality.” All involved have 120 days to report back to him on the status of the review.
Currently, there are about 800 U.S. military personnel in Niger, only a small part of which are special forces, and none of whom are intended to engage in direct contact, according to Robert Karem, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs. Officials reinforced that all military officials are there as part of the U.S. “by, with, and through” strategy that deploys U.S. assets in a supporting role of Niger force-led missions of interest to national security against terrorist groups like the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISIS-GS), Boko Haram, and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb who could threaten the U.S.
On October 4, 2017, the day of the attack, U.S. forces were supporting a Niger-led capture or kill mission of a key ISIS-GS leader, Doundoun Cheffou, when they were ambushed by a force nearly three times their size, forcing them to engage for defense measures.