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Army rescinds reprimand for Niger ambush that left four dead, report says

A soldier with the 3rd Special Forces Group uses rock drills to explain small unit tactics to Senegalese soldiers during a training exercise earlier this year in Niger. Since the 2017 ambush the killed four U.S. soldiers in the country, the U.S. military has struggled to reach consensus on which leaders should be blamed for poor mission planning.

KULANI LAKANARIA/U.S. ARMY

By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 10, 2018

The Army has rescinded the reprimand of a Green Beret who led troops during the deadly October 2017 ambush in Niger that left four U.S. soldiers dead, the New York Times reported.

Last week, Team 3212 leader Capt. Michael Perozeni, initially blamed for his role in planning the mission, was formally cleared, the newspaper said.

Meanwhile, a more senior officer — Lt. Col. David Painter, then the battalion commander in charge of Alpha Company and Team 3212 — was issued a reprimand after initially escaping blame, according to the Dec. 7 report.

Col. Brad Moses, the commanding officer of 3rd Special Forces Group at the time, has so far received no punishment but is now under renewed scrutiny, the newspaper said.

U.S. Africa Command referred questions about punishments and accountability actions to U.S. Special Operations Command, which did not have an immediate response Monday.

The latest moves came in response to a concern expressed by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis that lower-ranking troops were shouldering too much of the blame. After news reports highlighted that junior officers were being singled out for punishment, Mattis summoned top military commanders. The meeting resulted in Perozeni’s reprimand being rescinded and his supervisors being subjected to fresh scrutiny, the Times reported.

U.S. Special Operations Command Africa boss Maj. Gen. Marcus Hicks already had been reprimanded in connection with the ambush for insufficient oversight of his subordinate officers. He is the highest-ranking official punished so far for the incident.

An earlier Africa Command investigation of the October ambush determined that the members of the Green Beret and Nigerien team had little experience together as a unit.

In the aftermath of the attack, there has been significant inter-command friction between Army, SOCOM and AFRICOM as well as Pentagon leadership over who should be blamed, the Times reported.

While the Times cited complaints inside the Army about AFRICOM investigating itself, the command on Monday defended its investigation.

“It is not uncommon for a higher headquarters to serve as the investigating authority for one of its component or subordinate commands,” AFRICOM spokesman Maj. Karl Wiest said in an email. “U.S. AFRICOM had the responsibility to determine the facts and circumstances related to the attack in order to recognize the valor of our soldiers and to provide answers to the families of the fallen, Congress, and the American public.

“U.S. AFRICOM also needed this information to capture lessons that we have used to further refine our approach to countering violent extremists with our partners in the region.”

Four soldiers were killed in the ambush: Sgt. 1st Class Jeremiah W. Johnson, Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black, Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright and Sgt. La David Johnson. Most of the 11 soldiers on the team, including the four slain troops, have been nominated for valor awards that have yet to be approved.

vandiver.john@stripes.com
Twitter: @john_vandiver

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