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No leadership shake-up so far in wake of Niger ambush

A green beret with 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) practices patrolling techniques with Nigerien soldiers during Exercise Flintlock 2017 in Diffa, Niger, Feb. 28, 2017. 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) is regionally aligned to North and West Africa.

KULANI LAKANARIA/U.S. ARMY

By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 14, 2017

STUTTGART, Germany — More than a month after four U.S. soldiers were killed in an ambush in Niger, all military leaders involved in the planning of the mission remain on the job with no immediate plans to relieve any team members, U.S. Africa Command said.

“Simply put — nobody has been put on administrative leave or relieved of command at this time,” AFRICOM spokeswoman Samantha Reho said. “I’d like to stress that the fact there is an investigation does not necessarily indicate there’s been any wrongdoing related to this event.”

AFRICOM is now investigating what occurred during the surprise Oct. 4 attack that left a U.S. special operations team outgunned while on patrol in hostile territory. AFRICOM has dispatched investigators to the site of the ambush near Niger’s border with Mali.

When high-profile military mishaps occur, commanders directly involved are sometimes reassigned or fired before a final determination. In the Navy, several commanders were relieved after two deadly collisions involving the destroyers USS Fitzgerald and USS John S. McCain. The firings, which included officers ranging from captain to vice admiral, came before the Navy concluded the investigation into the incidents.

Numerous questions have been raised in the Niger ambush about the circumstances and whether U.S. forces had sufficient resources to carry out patrols where different militant groups are known to operate.

“The investigation is reviewing the facts and circumstances surrounding the attack on Oct. 4, and it will explore any issues or deficiencies with policy, procedures, resources, doctrine, training and leadership that may have contributed to this incident,” Reho said.

The AFRICOM investigation is not expected to be finished until January.

The roughly 40-person U.S.-Nigerien patrol, which included 12 U.S. soldiers, came under attack by about 50 Islamic State fighters midmorning as the unit was returning to its camp. The patrol had left the Nigerien capital of Niamey on Oct. 3 to meet with local leaders in near the village of Tongo Tongo, about 53 miles to the north.

It remains unclear how Sgt. La David Johnson got separated from the rest of his team and was missing for nearly 48 hours. Several news organizations, speaking with locals on the ground in Niger who witnessed the scene, said Johnson was found handcuffed and shot in the head.

Also killed in the attack were Staff Sgts. Bryan C. Black, Jeremiah W. Johnson and Dustin M. Wright, all assigned to the 3rd Special Forces Group at Fort Bragg, N.C. Two other soldiers were injured.

While the military’s mission in Niger garnered few headlines before the Oct. 4 attack, U.S. personnel have been deployed in the region for years and have come under attack in the past while on patrol with their Nigerien counterparts.

vandiver.john@stripes.com
Twitter: @john_vandiver

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