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Pentagon Probe Finds Many Failures Led to Fatal Niger Ambush, Suggests No Action

© AP Photo / Staff Sgt. Aaron J. Jenne/U.S. Air ForceIn this image provided by the US Air Force, a US Army carry team transfers the remains of Army Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright of Lyons, Ga., late Thursday, Oct. 5, 2017, upon arrival at Dover Air Force Base, Del. Wright, 29, of Lyons, Ga., was one of four US troops and four Niger forces killed in an ambush by dozens of Islamic extremists on a joint patrol of American and Niger Force.
In this image provided by the US Air Force, a US Army carry team transfers the remains of Army Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright of Lyons, Ga., late Thursday, Oct. 5, 2017, upon arrival at Dover Air Force Base, Del. Wright, 29, of Lyons, Ga., was one of four US troops and four Niger forces killed in an ambush by dozens of Islamic extremists on a joint patrol of American and Niger Force. - Sputnik International
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An investigation by the US Defense Department into an ambush in Niger last October in which four US soldiers were killed has discovered a number of failures at different levels of command.

Its verdict? Eh, no biggie.

The military investigation found "individual, organisational and institutional failures" that led to the ambush and the deaths of four US soldiers, according to a report by the Guardian.

A joint US-Nigerien military unit, which included 30 Nigeriens and 12 Americans, was on a mission to capture and kill a local ISIS in the Greater Sahara (ISIS-GS) leader. According to the investigation, during their mission, the soldiers, moving in unarmored civilian SUVs, entered a village called Tongo Tongo to replenish their water and talk to local leaders. As soon as they left the village, they were ambushed by a much larger group of militants and were eventually forced to abandon their vehicles and run for their lives on foot.

According to the investigation, the Nigerien and US soldiers had not received the basic training that would have allowed them to communicate with each other in spite of the language barrier. This despite the fact that the US soldiers were Green Berets, members of the US Army's elite Special Forces.

"If you get to a situation when you're under enemy contact, you need to be able to operate like clockwork without having to speak… and in this particular case, the team did not conduct those basic soldier-level skills," US Marine Corps General Thomas Waldhauser of US Africa Command told reporters at a Pentagon briefing on the report May 10.

In this photo taken Monday, April 16, 2018, a U.S. and Niger flag are raised side by side at the base camp for air forces and other personnel supporting the construction of Niger Air Base 201 in Agadez, Niger. - Sputnik International
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In fact, the report says, because of poor "personnel turnover," only half the team received collective training at all.

Having no appropriate training, the soldiers presumably were under the impression that they were being attacked by a much smaller force, not even calling for help for close to an hour, until it was already too late, the investigation says.

But the problems are spread across many layers. The US officers misinterpreted the real aim of the patrol as reconnaissance rather than a kill-or-capture mission, The Guardian reports. What this means is that the mission was approved on a much lower level than it should have been. Another mission scheduled for the same day was filed appropriately, but the airborne force that was supposed to conduct it did not take off because of poor weather.

Shockingly, the investigation also discovered that the US junior officers who submitted the request for the mission simply copied the wording from a previous reconnaissance mission rather than describing their exact plan.

Then there is the case of the wayward drone. A drone was supposed to provide aerial surveillance for the patrol. Drone operators checked that there were no apparent threat at the suspected Daesh camp, the report says, but they failed to send the drone down the patrol's return path to check on the roads. Instead, the operator sent the drone in the opposite direction, away from the Green Berets' base in Ouallam.

Despite all the above, the investigation report did not recommend specific corrective action, PressTV reports. Senior officials, in a summary of their report, cited two lower-level officers for poorly planning operations with Nigerien forces but did not recommend disciplinary action, according to the Washington Post. However, when talking to reporters, Waldhauser insisted that US command changed the way they conducted patrols in Africa even before the investigation report was published. He said the US servicemen will now have the option to use more — meaning at least one — armoured vehicles with more firepower and more surveillance drones.

Myeshia Johnson cries over the casket of her husband, Sgt. La David Johnson, who was killed in an ambush in Niger, upon his body's arrival in Miami - Sputnik International
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In addition, the new US doctrine implies that it will be local forces who will do the actual fighting (and dying) from now on, and US servicemen will only be present to train and advise.

While Waldhauser did not disclose whether the doomed patrol would have happened under the new rules, the Pentagon said there would be no changes to the overall scale of its mission in Niger.

"We have beefed up a lot of things posture-wise, with regards to these forces," Waldhauser said. "Tactical operations are there to be carried out by the partner force, not by US forces."

"We are now far more prudent in our missions, the missions we actually accompany have to have a strategic value in terms of the enemy we are going against — do they have a strategic threat to the United States?" he added.

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