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Dunford Reveals New Details On Fatal Niger Ambush

(DoD Photo by U.S. Army Sgt. James K. McCann)

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Saagar Enjeti White House Correspondent

A 12-man American team left the Nigerien capital of Niamey on Oct. 3 with reconnaissance mission orders and spent the night off base, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford revealed in a briefing with Pentagon reporters Monday.

Dunford revealed new details regarding an Oct. 4 Islamic State ambush of the 12-man U.S. military team. The team came under fire mid-morning of Oct. 4 by approximately 50 ISIS militants with small arms and rocket-propelled grenades. U.S. and Nigerien forces took fire for approximately one hour before air support was requested.

The one-hour delay in air support request could be for a host of reasons including belief by the team that the firefight was enough for them to handle themselves, Dunford cautioned. After U.S. forces made the call for air support it then took an additional one hour for French mirage jets to appear overhead, but the jets did not release any munitions on the ISIS militants.

During the hours-long engagement Sgt. La David Johnson, a U.S. soldier on the mission, was separated from his unit and declared missing, three others were dead, and two were wounded. Five Nigerien security forces were also killed during the operation. U.S., French, and Nigerien forces remained in the mission area for nearly 48 hours before Johnson’s body was found on Oct 6 by Nigerien forces.

Dunford could not reveal whether U.S. soldiers acted outside of their mission parameters, as some Nigerien security officials suggested to The New York Times Monday.  Local militants affiliated with ISIS is thought to be responsible for the attack and that enemy contact was considered unlikely, the Chairman also confirmed. He added that U.S. forces do not accompany Nigerien forces on missions when enemy contact is expected.

The ISIS affiliate is known as the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara and are led by Abu Walid al Sahrawi. Sahrawi has a long history with militant groups in Mali and at different times having associations with al-Qaida, running his own militia, and finally pledging allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in May 2015.

New details would emerge from the investigation that is being conducted by a general officer of U.S. Africa Command, Dunford cautioned throughout the briefing.

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