As the Pentagon's investigation into the incident draws to a close, the families of the US soldiers who lost their lives in Niger that day may finally be getting some answers regarding how and why their loved ones died: Col. Rob Manning, a Pentagon spokesperson, said Monday that the military is "currently in the process of briefing the families of those fallen soldiers in order to provide them with the results of the investigation."
News about the family meetings follows an April 6 briefing to Congress in which Marine Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, the commander of US Africa Command (AFRICOM), said that the investigation was "exhaustive" and "very, very detailed," but that Secretary of Defense James Mattis still needed to approve the resulting report before Waldhauser could testify about its findings.
Congress will get those details after the slain soldiers' families have all been briefed on the report, which Mattis in early February said was thousands of pages long. After Congress gets its turn, then the American public will get theirs.
Waldhauser is expected to give a public briefing as early as this week alongside Army Maj. Gen. Roger Cloutier, who led the investigation, but Waldhauser cautioned to the House Armed Services Committee on March 6 that the process of briefing families could take "a couple of weeks."
The US has roughly 800 soldiers in the West African nation, but they are not allowed to participate in combat missions, as they are ostensibly restricted to their "advise and assist" role, leaving them tasked mostly with reconnaissance and surveillance missions.
The October 4 mission was supposed to be a typical reconnaissance operation, where US and Nigerien forces were to meet with local leaders to seek intelligence. But somehow, US and Nigerien forces wound up hunting for Doundou Chefou, a commander in the ISGS, instead. On their way back to base, the soldiers were ambushed by the jihadists.
AFRICOM's preliminary investigation found that a junior officer subbing in for a regional commander on paternity leave ordered the mission change-up, according to a February article in the New York Times. An updated version of the report indicated that soldiers went rogue in their hunt for the Daesh commander, lacking the necessary approval to go after a senior militant.
The soldiers went to the last known location of Chefou but, finding it abandoned, went back to Tongo Tongo for supplies, according to the most recent version of the report cited by AP. They were overrun shortly after leaving.
ISGS is suspected to have fewer than 100 fighters, although somewhere close to that number ambushed the American and Nigerien forces in the incident, killing four US troops and five Nigeriens.