New details about deadly ambush of US troops

With the Pentagon's final report into the October ambush of a Green Beret-led team in Niger expected by the end of Ja...

Posted: Jan 12, 2018 9:43 AM
Updated: Jan 12, 2018 9:43 AM

With the Pentagon's final report into the October ambush of a Green Beret-led team in Niger expected by the end of January, CNN is learning new details about the questions investigators have been asking to determine what led to the deaths of four US soldiers.

Two US officials told CNN the military investigation could be followed by administrative action against more than one officer involved in planning and executing the mission. If approved by the Army, reprimands could be issued for failures to follow procedures.

Four US soldiers were killed and two were wounded in the ambush

The body of Sgt. La David Johnson was recovered 48 hours after the attack

US military officials have previously told CNN that the US-led team was traveling with 30 Nigerien soldiers when they were attacked by approximately 50 ISIS-affiliated fighters armed with rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and heavy machine guns.

During the subsequent gun battle, which lasted for hours, four US soldiers -- Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright and Sgt. La David T. Johnson -- were killed and two were wounded.

Five Nigeriens were also killed. US-Nigerien forces managed to kill 20 militants during the firefight, a defense official previously told CNN.

The body of Sgt. La David Johnson was recovered 48 hours after the attack. Additional remains of Johnson's were recovered on November 12 by a US military and FBI team that traveled to the area.

Investigators expect to answer several key questions about the attack in their final report this month including:

  • Was the ambush avoidable?
  • Was there an intelligence failure?
  • Why did it take 48 hours to find the body of Sgt. La David Johnson?
  • Did specific failures result in the 12-man team being being attacked by approximately 50 heavily armed ISIS-affiliated fighters?

Was there an intelligence failure?

Investigators have been probing whether US intelligence agencies gave the troops the most current assessment of the ISIS threat before they were sent into the field.

Multiple officials have said no intelligence operatives were present at the time of the ambush but they did play a role behind the scenes.

Two officials have previously told CNN that initial indications are that a small number of intelligence and law enforcement personnel were working with a second military team that was potentially going to be tasked to capture or kill a high-value target.

That mission was never green-lit, but had it occurred the officials said the team that was ultimately ambushed would have served as emergency backup.

What investigators want to know is why the intelligence did not indicate the presence of ISIS and whether all the proper authorizations and intelligence analysis was conducted.

US officials originally said that they worked off the best intelligence they had at the time.

"This was an ongoing operation, series of operations, based on an assessment that contact with the enemy would be unlikely," Joint Staff Director Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie said on October 26.

The investigation is assessing who made that judgment and why it was not accurate -- a critical question because the team got orders while in the field to visit an ISIS camp that was known to be abandoned to gather intelligence.

"That special forces team did not have a true picture of the environment that they were in," said Cedric Leighton, a former US intelligence officer. "They didn't understand the village and local dynamics that they were dealing with. And they also did not understand how close the terrorists were to their operation."

Officials caution it is still unknown whether the ambush was avoidable as it may have been a case of "wrong place at the wrong time."

How the ambush unfolded

Critical questions also remain over how the ambush occurred, but top military officials were aware within days of the attack that what was supposed to be a routine patrol was plagued with problems.

Investigators have been assessing the adequacy of communications used by the troops during the battle and how the mission was approved from the beginning.

Military investigators have re-enacted the ambush in an attempt to better understand how the events unfolded.

"Based on what we know so far the attackers used a sophisticated series of tactics. They also understood the kind of tactics that they would need to use in order to defeat the Special Forces Team that was out there," Leighton told CNN.

The Americans did not request backup from French air support for one hour after making initial contact with enemy forces but it took another hour before the jets arrived as communications proved difficult, officials told CNN.

"I think it's a fair conclusion to say that about two hours after the initial contact was made the initial French Mirages arrived overhead," Gen. Joseph Dunford said on October 23.

Three US officials told CNN last month that they are looking to establish if there was a communications breakdown that might have delayed a French response once the ambush began.

Why was Sgt. Johnson's body not found?

The most emotional issue at hand for investigators is determining the fate of Sgt. La David Johnson.

The ambush sparked global headlines when his body was not found and recovered from villagers for 48 hours after the attack and Trump's phone call to his widow was poorly received.

Officials said it is unlikely that Johnson was ever alive in enemy hands nor that was he executed as he suffered multiple gunshot wounds.

Ultimately, officials told CNN that the 12-man Green Beret-led team on the ground fought against the attackers with valor and that medals are expected.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 75862

Reported Deaths: 3069
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion16088730
Lake7688278
Elkhart492685
Allen4002163
St. Joseph357883
Hamilton2829104
Vanderburgh202213
Hendricks1927108
Cass18029
Johnson1789119
Porter135539
Clark128749
Tippecanoe123811
Madison100665
LaPorte93130
Howard91365
Kosciusko86812
Bartholomew81747
Floyd80948
Marshall79323
Monroe76631
Delaware74552
Dubois70812
Vigo69911
Noble68829
Boone68746
Hancock68339
Jackson5965
Warrick58830
Shelby56527
LaGrange56310
Grant52930
Dearborn51228
Morgan49334
Clinton4444
Henry40620
Wayne38510
White37611
Montgomery35921
Lawrence35227
Harrison34823
Decatur34132
Putnam3128
Daviess27720
Miami2772
Scott27210
Jasper2552
Greene25434
Franklin24615
DeKalb2384
Gibson2314
Jennings22712
Steuben2133
Ripley2138
Carroll1962
Fayette1947
Perry18713
Posey1790
Starke1787
Wells1742
Orange17424
Fulton1722
Wabash1703
Jefferson1672
Knox1610
Whitley1556
Tipton14312
Washington1421
Sullivan1381
Spencer1373
Clay1245
Huntington1243
Randolph1244
Newton12010
Adams1092
Owen991
Jay920
Rush854
Pulaski811
Fountain742
Brown741
Blackford652
Ohio656
Benton640
Pike590
Vermillion580
Switzerland530
Parke511
Martin480
Crawford450
Union410
Warren241
Unassigned0206

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 102826

Reported Deaths: 3708
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Franklin18697529
Cuyahoga13734505
Hamilton9766257
Lucas5448326
Montgomery443896
Summit3614223
Butler297663
Marion293545
Mahoning2595255
Pickaway239142
Stark1884140
Warren182139
Lorain181377
Columbiana167160
Trumbull1549108
Fairfield141632
Delaware134419
Licking131951
Clark117815
Lake113141
Wood106858
Clermont95311
Medina94535
Miami85839
Tuscarawas79314
Portage77163
Allen76946
Greene71812
Mercer63113
Belmont62326
Richland61412
Erie59728
Ashtabula57646
Geauga55944
Wayne54558
Ross4944
Darke40629
Huron4045
Madison40110
Ottawa39626
Sandusky39017
Hancock3893
Athens3602
Holmes3286
Lawrence3000
Auglaize2636
Union2601
Muskingum2431
Scioto2421
Jefferson2373
Seneca2283
Knox2127
Putnam21117
Shelby2104
Washington20922
Preble2072
Coshocton1967
Champaign1812
Morrow1762
Crawford1755
Hardin17012
Clinton1696
Highland1661
Logan1602
Ashland1543
Fulton1531
Wyandot1509
Defiance1504
Brown1462
Perry1403
Williams1363
Henry1222
Fayette1210
Guernsey1197
Hocking1189
Carroll1135
Monroe9418
Pike790
Jackson760
Van Wert732
Paulding700
Gallia701
Adams612
Meigs540
Vinton322
Morgan300
Harrison261
Noble160
Unassigned00
Fort Wayne
Clear
61° wxIcon
Hi: 86° Lo: 63°
Feels Like: 61°
Angola
Clear
55° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 63°
Feels Like: 55°
Huntington
Few Clouds
62° wxIcon
Hi: 84° Lo: 63°
Feels Like: 62°
Decatur
57° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 63°
Feels Like: 57°
Van Wert
57° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 63°
Feels Like: 57°
Mostly Sunny Thursday
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events