Family Members Reject Niger Ambush Final Report as Top Cover for Senior Officers

U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers observe as Nigerien service members fire their weapons with the assistance of Illumination rounds during Exercise Flintlock 2017 in Diffa, Niger, March 9, 2017 (U.S. Army/Spc. Zayid Ballesteros)
U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers observe as Nigerien service members fire their weapons with the assistance of Illumination rounds during Exercise Flintlock 2017 in Diffa, Niger, March 9, 2017 (U.S. Army/Spc. Zayid Ballesteros)

Several family members of the four Green Berets killed in the Niger ambush have angrily rejected the Pentagon's final report on the October 2017 attack for failing to hold more senior officers accountable.

The report and private briefings by Army officials to family members amounted to "more of the CYA [cover your ass] stuff that I'd already heard," Arnold Wright, father of slain Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright, told CBS News on Wednesday. "I wouldn't do this to my worst enemy."

The family members were brought to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, on Wednesday ahead of the release of the final redacted report on the circumstances that led to the deaths of their loved ones:

  • Sgt. La David T. Johnson, 25, of Miami Gardens, Florida;
  • Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black, 35, of Puyallup, Washington;
  • Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, 39, of Springboro, Ohio;
  • Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright, 29, of Lyons, Georgia.

Cowanda Johnson, La David Johnson's aunt, told ABC News that she and his widow, Myeshia Johnson, walked out of the meeting after about 20 minutes in anger and frustration at the information they were being given.

"I'm angry as hell" that more senior officers weren't punished, Debra Gannon, mother of Jeremiah Johnson, told ABC News after the briefing on the 176-page final report concluded. "They could have spent a couple of dollars and mailed it to us and we would've gotten the same thing out of it."

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The conclusion of the investigations cleared the way for posthumous awards. Wright and La David Johnson will be awarded the Silver Star; Black and Jeremiah Johnson will receive the Bronze Star with "V" device for valor.

"The awards will be officially announced and presented in accordance with the families' wishes, and at a time that is appropriate to honor the actions and sacrifice associated with the valor awards," according to the Pentagon.

In a statement accompanying the final report, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said no additional punishments would be handed down beyond those that had already been imposed.

"I am satisfied that all findings, awards and accountability actions were thorough and appropriate," he said.

A total of nine individuals have been disciplined as a result of failures in judgment, preparation or actions in the ambush -- mainly with letters of reprimand or administrative action.

The most senior was Air Force Maj. Gen. Marcus Hicks, who was serving as commander of special operations forces in Africa at the time of the attack. He was issued a general officer reprimand, according to U.S. Special Operations Command.

Two officers in the chain of command at the time of the ambush reportedly are in line for promotions. Col. Bradley D. Moses, commander of the 3rd Special Forces Group during the ambush, is up for promotion to one-star rank, which would require Senate confirmation, Politico reported.

Lt. Col. David Painter, a battalion commander based in Chad during the ambush, also is in line for promotion to colonel, according to Politico.

In a statement Wednesday, Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Arizona, a Marine combat veteran of Iraq, said Shanahan's decision to let the initial punishments stand amounts to "a shirking of responsibility to the memory and families of the deceased."

"One thing is clear: Mistakes were made that cost these men's lives. Their families -- and the American public -- deserve clear answers about what happened, who will be held accountable, and what will be done to prevent this from ever happening again," said Gallego, a member of the House Armed Services Committee.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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