Many unanswered questions about ambush in Niger that killed 4 Green Berets

On October 4, a dozen Green Berets were on a routine mission in Niger, reaching out to local leaders about the growing danger of ISIS affiliated groups becoming more active in the region. As they were preparing to depart, approximately 50 terrorists ambushed the group. A fierce firefight ensued during which 4 Americans were killed.

The Americans were eventually rescued by French helicopters. But questions are being asked about why the US had no rescue aircraft in the vicinity and why it took more than an hour for the French to respond to the call for help.

CNN:

The attackers had rocket propelled grenades and machine guns, while the US troops were armed only with rifles and were in unarmored trucks according to officials. It had been considered 'unlikely' they would run into opposition and initial reports being reviewed indicate some locals in the area may have known an attack was planned, two officials said.

The failure to anticipate an attack and the fact there were no US rescue and recover assets close by meant nearly an hour went by before the evacuation of the two wounded and three dead US troops by French Super Puma helicopters could be completed.

Defense Secretary James Mattis said the rescue was timely stating: "I completely reject the idea that that was slow." But he did say an investigation will determine if changes are needed. "We will look at this and say was there something we have to adapt to now? Should we have been in a better stance."

One indication of how unexpected the attack was: the unit in Niger "had actually done 29 patrols without contact over the previous six months," Joint Staff Director Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. told reporters.

Officials who have read the initial after-action reports say there was confusion and uncertainty on the ground after what was a completely unexpected attack. The team was particularly vulnerable because it was in two separate locations when the attack began. Some were walking back from a meeting with local villagers. Others were waiting outside, guarding the vehicles that the US troops were using.

While French helicopters were able to get the team to safety, the critical failure to find Johnson for another 48 hours has not been explained. His body was eventually found in a nearby area, but military investigators do not know why he was left behind during the French led evacuation and if he was alive even for a short period of time, US officials tell CNN.

Military officials have acknowledged that the incident is under investigation and that security procedures for teams operating in Africa are in the process of being reviewed. But it remains to be seen if Trump will choose to weigh in on the failings that led to the deadliest combat incident of his presidency so far.

As far as a potential flash point, Niger was pretty far down the list. The former French colony has not been a target of ISIS or AQ, although it is 80% Muslim. The recent growth of groups swearing allegiance to ISIS precipitated the mission by Green Berets to help the local population fight and resist ISIS advances.

The reason we didn't have rescue assets nearby is unknown, but could have been because we had an arrangement with French forces with regard to support for the mission. Obviously, no one expected any trouble which means no matter how close the French helicopters might have been, they weren't prepared for a mission.

US Special Forces have been taking on more and more responsibility as the threat of terrorism continues to expand. We no doubt have units like the Green Berets in Niger in dozens of countries in Africa and Asia. We have learned a hard lesson that even in countries where trouble isn't expected, we have to be better prepared for the worst case scenarios.

On October 4, a dozen Green Berets were on a routine mission in Niger, reaching out to local leaders about the growing danger of ISIS affiliated groups becoming more active in the region. As they were preparing to depart, approximately 50 terrorists ambushed the group. A fierce firefight ensued during which 4 Americans were killed.

The Americans were eventually rescued by French helicopters. But questions are being asked about why the US had no rescue aircraft in the vicinity and why it took more than an hour for the French to respond to the call for help.

CNN:

The attackers had rocket propelled grenades and machine guns, while the US troops were armed only with rifles and were in unarmored trucks according to officials. It had been considered 'unlikely' they would run into opposition and initial reports being reviewed indicate some locals in the area may have known an attack was planned, two officials said.

The failure to anticipate an attack and the fact there were no US rescue and recover assets close by meant nearly an hour went by before the evacuation of the two wounded and three dead US troops by French Super Puma helicopters could be completed.

Defense Secretary James Mattis said the rescue was timely stating: "I completely reject the idea that that was slow." But he did say an investigation will determine if changes are needed. "We will look at this and say was there something we have to adapt to now? Should we have been in a better stance."

One indication of how unexpected the attack was: the unit in Niger "had actually done 29 patrols without contact over the previous six months," Joint Staff Director Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. told reporters.

Officials who have read the initial after-action reports say there was confusion and uncertainty on the ground after what was a completely unexpected attack. The team was particularly vulnerable because it was in two separate locations when the attack began. Some were walking back from a meeting with local villagers. Others were waiting outside, guarding the vehicles that the US troops were using.

While French helicopters were able to get the team to safety, the critical failure to find Johnson for another 48 hours has not been explained. His body was eventually found in a nearby area, but military investigators do not know why he was left behind during the French led evacuation and if he was alive even for a short period of time, US officials tell CNN.

Military officials have acknowledged that the incident is under investigation and that security procedures for teams operating in Africa are in the process of being reviewed. But it remains to be seen if Trump will choose to weigh in on the failings that led to the deadliest combat incident of his presidency so far.

As far as a potential flash point, Niger was pretty far down the list. The former French colony has not been a target of ISIS or AQ, although it is 80% Muslim. The recent growth of groups swearing allegiance to ISIS precipitated the mission by Green Berets to help the local population fight and resist ISIS advances.

The reason we didn't have rescue assets nearby is unknown, but could have been because we had an arrangement with French forces with regard to support for the mission. Obviously, no one expected any trouble which means no matter how close the French helicopters might have been, they weren't prepared for a mission.

US Special Forces have been taking on more and more responsibility as the threat of terrorism continues to expand. We no doubt have units like the Green Berets in Niger in dozens of countries in Africa and Asia. We have learned a hard lesson that even in countries where trouble isn't expected, we have to be better prepared for the worst case scenarios.

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