What Happened Near Tongo Tongo, Niger, the Night of October 4? (UPDATED)
A video produced by DoD and used to brief members of Congress on the October 2017 Niger ambush that killed four US soldiers has been released to news media.
The video includes extensive details about the mission and the attack on the 12-member team and their partner Nigerien force, according to CNN. CNN shows part of the video here.
The part shown by CNN is poignant and may be distressing to some as it shows the body of Sgt. La David Johnson being recovered from under a tree.
According to Defense officials, this portion of the video has been shown to the Johnson family.
The footage, according to CNN, provides additional details about the tragedy.
The footage shows a group of seven American and four Nigerien troops escaped the ambush after several minutes and fled into a swamp to establish their final defensive position. The video narrator notes they all believed at that point they were going to be killed.
“They wrote short messages to loved ones on personal devices, believing they would soon be overrun,” says the US military narrator.
The footage also shows one American step into a clearing waving a US flag to signal the group’s identity. “French helicopters arrived in the vicinity at 1600 hours and searched for the team for 40 minutes. A team member moved into a clearing, waved an American flag to the helicopters to establish their identity as friendly forces,” the narrator says.
CNN also reports “What had not been revealed is what happened when another Nigerien military team came to rescue them but did not realize they were not ISIS fighters. That force ‘arrived by vehicle at the team’s location and mistook the team for enemy forces, firing on them for 48 seconds with automatic weapons until they were positively identified. Fortunately no one was injured further,’ according to the military narrator.”
On October 4, 2017, four U.S. soldiers from the Africa Command were ambushed and killed during a mission near Tongo Tongo, Niger.
The four U.S. Army soldiers killed were Sgt. 1st Class Jeremiah Johnson, Staff Sgt. Bryan Black, Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright and Sgt. La David Johnson. Four Nigerien partners were also killed, below.
The ambush, the deadliest U.S. combat incident since the inauguration of president Trump, had many demanding answers to questions about the mission, the circumstances of the ambush and especially about the death and recovery of Sgt. La David Johnson. Readers here also had questions.
The incident also ignited a political firestorm because of the commander-in-chief’s failure to address the tragedy for 12 days; the way he finally conducted a condolence call to Sgt. La David Johnson’s widow, and how this was followed by White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly’s false and derogatory attacks against African American Rep. Frederica S. Wilson (D-Fla.) – and his refusal to apologize.
Marine Corps Gen. Thomas D. Waldhauser, the commander of U.S. Africa Command, appointed Army Maj. Gen. Roger L. Cloutier Jr., the Africom chief of staff, to conduct an investigation under Army Regulation 15-6, an investigation that was complicated, “spanned three continents and took three months to complete.”
Recently, Defense Secretary James N. Mattis concluded his review of the report and released it on May 12.
Here are some of the major findings:
• The immediate cause of the deaths of the U.S. soldiers was tactical surprise by a far larger enemy force. All four were killed taking the fight to the enemy, and none was ever captured. The soldiers faced small arms fire, rocket-propelled grenades, machine guns and mortars.
• “All four soldiers killed in action sustained wounds that were either immediately fatal or rapidly fatal, and were deceased by the time the initial site was accessible to personnel recovery assets,”
• Support from French aircraft and a Nigerien quick-reaction force was prompt, and the French aviation effort, specifically, “likely saved the lives of the surviving members” of the U.S. Special Operations Force team.”
• The American soldiers called for air support 53 minutes after the action started. The French aircraft arrived over the battlefield 47 minutes after that notification. The Mirage jets were not able to drop ordnance due to the confusion on the ground, but low-level passes over the fight caused the ISIS terrorists to break action and retreat. French helicopters arrived later and evacuated the surviving U.S. soldiers.
• The Nigerien army’s quick-reaction force left its base eight minutes after being notified and arrived in Tongo Tongo about four and a half hours later due to the lack of roads and rough terrain in the area…
There were deficiencies that contributed to the result, such as:
• Personnel turnover in the U.S. unit prevented the team from conducting “key pre-deployment collective training as a complete team.”
• The team did not conduct pre-mission rehearsals or battle drills with their Nigerien partner force.
• The initial concept of operations for the mission was not approved at the proper level of command. “Rather the U.S. Special Operations Force Team commander and the next higher level commander at the Advanced Operations Base … inaccurately characterized the nature of the mission in the concept of operations.”
According to DoD, Secretary Mattis “is addressing the institutional and organization issues the report unveiled and has directed a number of specific actions to examine, evaluate and make recommendations of DoD personnel practices to improve units’ readiness and lethality.”
Mattis has also directed U.S. Special Operations Command 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.
Finally, DoD says,
…no amount of investigation or corrective action will ease the agonizing grief that the families of our fallen must feel. The Department hopes that the families will take pride and comfort in knowing – as this investigation makes clear – that their loved ones fought and died bravely in defense of our Nation, its people, and the values we hold dear. It is also important to thank our Nigerien partners and French allies who aided and supported the entire team.
Lead image: DoD