A veil of secrecy has been pulled over the October 4 incident in Niger, where four Green Berets were killed by ISIS-affiliated fighters in an ambush.
The White House made a brief comment on October 5, expressing sorrow for the loss and that “our thoughts and prayers” are with the families and friends of the fallen.
But since then, nothing. The Pentagon says they are still looking into the details of the ambush. But there has been no explanation for why there was apparently a delay of an hour before help arrived for the embattled troops.
Officials said the 12 man Green Beret-led team had just completed a meeting with local leaders and were walking back to their unarmored pick-up trucks when the unexpected ambush resulted in a firefight that lasted 30 minutes until French Mirage jets arrived overhead to fly low passes in an attempt to disperse the attackers.
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.
It’s hard to maintain a heightened state of preparedness when 29 previous patrols had not met with any trouble. There was no reason to think this patrol was going to be any different.
But these are Green Berets. I don’t think that explanation is a defense when talking about such highly trained and motivated troops.
So the question is: Did the Army do everything it could to safeguard the lives of its men? It would seem a routine matter for the Army to have assets capable of rescuing the men somewhere nearby. That the French rescued the remaining Green Berets after an hour suggests that we sent men into a potentially dangerous situation without adequate backup.
I’m sure the families would be interested in the truth. So would the American people. Whether we’re going to get it from the Pentagon is an open question.