WASHINGTON — Multiple failures led up to the deadly Niger attack last October, but top military leaders said Thursday that none directly caused the overwhelming enemy ambush that killed four American service members and sent others fighting and running for their lives.
“The direct cause of the enemy attack in Tongo Tongo is that the enemy achieved tactical surprise there and our forces were outnumbered approximately three-to-one,” Maj. Gen. Roger Cloutier Jr. told reporters during a Pentagon press conference.
He described a brutal, chaotic firefight, as 46 U.S. and Nigerien forces battled more than 100 enemy fighters. Amid the chaos, he said, there were repeated acts of bravery as the outnumbered and outgunned soldiers made split-second decisions under heavy fire, struggling to protect and rescue each other during the more than hourlong assault.
Killed in the attack were: Army 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; and Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright, 29, of Lyons, Georgia. Four Nigerien troops were also killed, and two American soldiers and eight Nigerien forces were wounded.
The Americans who were killed “gave their last full measure of devotion to our country and died with honor while actively engaging the enemy,” the report said. None were captured alive by the enemy, and all died immediately or quickly from their wounds, it said.
After months of silence during the investigation, Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, head of U.S. Africa Command, laid out the findings and took responsibility for what happened.
He said the report, which has not yet been made public in full, singles out three individuals whose actions could be faulted. He did not name them. U.S. Special Operations Command will make any discipline decisions, as well as recommendations on awards for valor, Waldhauser said, adding he believes there will be awards for numerous acts of extraordinary bravery by the troops.
Navy Capt. Jason Salata, spokesman for Special Operations Command, said a full review of the report has begun and “we are totally committed to resolving every issue addressed” in it.
The investigation has already triggered changes in the way military activities are carried out in Niger and elsewhere in Africa, including giving teams the option to use heavily armored vehicles and beefed-up firepower.
“We are now far more prudent on our missions,” said Waldhauser, who sat alongside Cloutier, Africa Command’s chief of staff who led the investigation.
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