Shanahan Launches New Investigation into Deadly 2017 Niger Ambush

These images provided by the U.S. Army show, from left, Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black, 35, of Puyallup, Wash.; Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, 39, of Springboro, Ohio; Sgt. La David Johnson of Miami Gardens, Fla.; and Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright, 29, of Lyons, Ga. All four were killed in Niger, when a joint patrol of American and Niger forces was ambushed by militants believed linked to the Islamic State group. The Pentagon on Thursday is releasing the final report on the Niger attack that killed four Americans
These images provided by the U.S. Army show, from left, Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black, 35, of Puyallup, Wash.; Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, 39, of Springboro, Ohio; Sgt. La David Johnson of Miami Gardens, Fla.; and Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright, 29, of Lyons, Ga. All four were killed in Niger, when a joint patrol of American and Niger forces was ambushed by militants believed linked to the Islamic State group. The Pentagon on Thursday is releasing the final report on the Niger attack that killed four Americans last October, concluding that the Army Special Forces team did not get required command approval for the initial risky mission to go after a high-level insurgent. (U.S. Army via AP)

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan revealed Tuesday that another investigation into a deadly 2017 ambush in Niger is underway at the Pentagon.

Shanahan told members of the House Armed Services Committee that, at his direction, officials are once again looking into an Oct. 4, 2017, incident that left four U.S. soldiers dead.

The ambush, which occurred near the village of Tongo Tongo in northwestern Niger, led to allegations that a low-risk joint training patrol by U.S. and Nigerien troops was turned into a poorly planned, last-minute raid, lacking backup and air cover, to capture a terror suspect.

Islamic State militants killed Army Sgt. La David Johnson, 25, of Miami Gardens, Florida; Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black, 35, of Puyallup, Washington; Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, 39, of Springboro, Ohio; and Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright, 29, of Lyons, Georgia.

"[Former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis] convened a review and that recommendation was brought to me. I did not find that sufficient," Shanahan said during his testimony. "So I convened my own review so I can ensure from top to bottom as the appropriate accountability."

The acting secretary said he does not know when the new report's findings will be complete but expects information "soon."

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Shanahan said the new report should shed light on the incident with a "direct accounting" of what happened before, during and after the attack.

He was responding to questions from Rep. Ruben Gallego, an Arizona Democrat and Marine Corps veteran, who worried that blame would be passed onto junior officers in the investigation.

"It seems to me is that we're going to place blame on junior officers, and we're letting colonels and general officers just get off the hook," Gallego said.

"That's the reason. The fundamental reason that I've done this is, for every person between boots on the ground to the most senior position, I want a direct accounting," Shanahan replied.

Mattis wanted the same thing, according to reports.

The New York Times reported Dec. 7 that Mattis was "livid" that senior officers had escaped punishment for the botched operation. An earlier investigation conducted by U.S. Africa Command largely placed the blame on Capt. Mike Perozeni, team leader of Operational Detachment Alpha Team 3212. He was issued a letter of reprimand in fall 2018 for sending the team out with "insufficient training and rehearsals before leaving their base," according to Stars and Stripes.

The Army rescinded Perozeni's reprimand in December 2018. That same week, Lt. Col. David Painter, then the battalion commander in charge of Alpha Team 3212, was issued a reprimand, the Times said.

Mattis had "expressed dissatisfaction" that Painter, as one of the senior officials in charge, had been cleared of responsibility, Politico reported. In February, Painter was abruptly removed from his duties as commander of 2nd Battalion, 2nd Security Force Assistance Brigade.

"These families and the American public deserve to know exactly what happened," Gallego said Tuesday. "And the junior officers that are being reprimanded right now should know that there's gonna be equal reprimands, especially for general officers, should they have … done anything wrong."

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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