Classified Niger probe finds multiple flaws in deadly mission: report

A classified report on the deadly attack in Niger last fall found that disregard for the chain of command and a rush to approve a mission were contributing factors to the deaths of four U.S. soldiers, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.

The 6,000-page report says that low-level commanders at U.S. Africa Command, eager to hit at local militant groups, took risks to get operations approved, officials familiar with the report told the Journal.

In one case, at least one officer copied and pasted orders from a different mission into the new mission’s concept of operations to get the plan approved.

The copied orders are only one of a series of missteps detailed in the report, which also describes a disregard for military procedures.

The report, however, reportedly doesn’t recommend punishment for anyone.

The report also doesn’t blame increased decision-making power given at lower levels. That change, directed by President TrumpDonald John TrumpGovernment workers protest outside White House on shutdown day 20 Fed chief Powell: Prolonged shutdown will harm US economy Senators say questions remain on Trump strategy in Syria after briefing MORE after recommendations from Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisFormer US Defense secretary: ‘American global leadership now is really nowhere’ Congress poised to push back at Trump on Saudi Arabia, Syria Overnight Defense: Top House Armed Services Republican opposes military funds for wall | Speculation swirls over whether Trump will declare national emergency | Pentagon gets new chief of staff MORE, came last year.

The investigation follows the October attack near Tongo Tongo, a village in a remote area of Niger. About 12 U.S. soldiers and 30 Nigerien soldiers were on a mission to meet with local officials — but it was then switched to a plan to search for an associate of forces aligned with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Despite U.S. intelligence assessing a low possibility of enemies in the area, the group was ambushed by about 50 attackers. Four U.S. service members and five Nigerien soldiers were killed.

Defense officials this week are briefing family members of the four slain soldiers on the report, which has taken months to complete and includes testimony from dozens of individuals, maps, diagrams and even video taken from soldiers’ helmet cameras.

A classified version of the report has been provided to Congress, which will receive briefings on it from top Pentagon officials.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the House Armed Services Committee are both planning hearings on the Niger mission.

Armed Services Chairman Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryThe Hill’s Morning Report — Back to the drawing board as shutdown reaches 19 days Congress poised to push back at Trump on Saudi Arabia, Syria Overnight Defense: Top House Armed Services Republican opposes military funds for wall | Speculation swirls over whether Trump will declare national emergency | Pentagon gets new chief of staff MORE (R-Texas) on Thursday criticized a leak of the report’s details ahead of family members being briefed.

“There are a number of important oversight issues related to the ambush of U.S. forces in Niger and America’s military posture in Africa,” he said in a statement.

“However, it is deeply troubling that individuals with access to the report chose to leak details of the investigation before families of the fallen could be fully briefed. To me, that is an unconscionable breach of faith with the families of our warfighters and perhaps a violation of law.”

Thornberry added that he has directed the committee’s staff director to start an inquiry to make sure that the leak did not come from his committee and urged his fellow chairs with access to the report to do the same.

The report also includes military-wide directives from Mattis on training guidance, operational discipline and reinforcing already-established protocols within the chain of command. The officials said these were to help reduce the chances of another similar incident.   

Mattis will also specifically give the Army, Special Operations Command and U.S. Africa Command about 10 “primary directives.” The groups will then have four months to show they are trying to fix the issues found in the report.

There are about 6,000 U.S. troops in Africa, including 800 in Niger.

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