The U.S. military investigation into the early October deaths of four U.S. soldiers in an ambush deep inside Niger is not expected to be completed until January 2018, the Pentagon revealed in a Wednesday statement.
Families of the deceased were also informed that U.S. Africa Command’s “investigation team will travel to locations in the U.S., Africa and Europe to gather information related to the investigation.” The ambush has engendered intense controversy domestically leading to questions as to why exactly 1,000 U.S. troops are in Niger, what went wrong in the deadly incident, and the lack of details coming from the Pentagon.
The few details known indicate a 12-man U.S. team accompanied Nigerien security forces on a routine mission near the Niger-Mali border when dozens of Islamic State fighters ambushed the group. The 12-man team was on a reconnaissance mission to develop intelligence on the whereabouts of ISIS leaders in the area.
U.S. and Nigerien forces took fire for approximately one hour before air support was requested, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford revealed in late October. After U.S. forces made the call for air support it 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.
Local militants affiliated with ISIS is thought to be responsible for the attack and enemy contact was considered unlikely, Dunford also confirmed. U.S. forces do not accompany Nigerien forces on missions when enemy contact is expected, he added.
The ISIS affiliate is known as the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara and is 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.
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