WASHINGTON (CBSMiami) – The Pentagon is providing an update on the investigation into the deadly ambush in Niger that killed four U.S. soldiers, including Sergeant La David Johnson from Miami Gardens.
A new timeline was revealed Monday by Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph Dunford about the events in early October in the West African country.
According to the Pentagon, 12 members of the U.S. Special Operations Task Force accompanied 30 Nigerian forces on a civil reconnaissance mission to gather information near the area of Tongo Tongo. The assessment, Dunford said, was that contact with the enemy was “unlikely.”
On the morning of Oct. 4, U.S. and Nigerian forces began moving back south en route to their operating base and the patrol came under attack from about 50 enemy combatants using small arms fire, rocket-propelled grenades and technical vehicles, Dunford said. He said he did not have any reports of any IEDs being used. Dunford described the fighters as an “ISIS-affiliated group” or local tribe fighters associated with ISIS.
After an hour of U.S. and Nigerian forces taking fire, the team requested support, Dunford said Monday. Within minutes, a remotely piloted aircraft, he said, appeared overhead and within an hour, French jets arrived. Later in the afternoon, French attack helicopters arrived and a Nigerian quick reaction force.
During the firefight, two U.S. soldiers were wounded and evacuated by French aircraft, which was consistent with the evacuation plan in place for that operation. Three U.S. soldiers who died were evacuated on the evening of Oct. 4 and at that time; Sgt. La David Johnson was still missing. On the evening of Oct. 6, his body was found and evacuated.
The White House was notified, Dunford said, as soon as they knew a U.S. soldier went missing.
He said it was fair to conclude that it was about two hours between the time initial contact was made with the enemy to the time the initial French Mirage jets arrived on scene. He added that he could not “definitively” say how far Johnson’s body was from the initial site of contact.
Dunford said that the U.S. team found themselves in a “very complex situation” and the first thing military officials will do once the investigation is complete is visit the victims’ families in their homes with a team of experts and share all of the facts.
“When this information is available, what we’ll do is we’ll share with the family all of the facts and give them an opportunity to ask questions,” he further explained. “We’ll give you an opportunity to ask questions once we share with the families.”
General Dunford said there are too many unknowns to be able to understand how or why Sergeant La David Johnson disappeared for two days.
Dunford added that French, Nigerian and U.S. troops remained on the ground in the area until Johnson’s body was found.
U.S. troops have been in Niger, off and on, for more than 20 years and that since 2011, French and U.S. troops have trained a 5,000-person West African force to fight terrorists. Currently, 800 U.S. troops are based in the region, Dunford said. They are focused on defeating violent extremists such as Boko Haram, al Qaeda and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Dunford said.
As part of the investigation, Dunford said, there will be people on the ground retracing their steps and measuring the distances between each site in order to provide detailed graphics of how the attack happened and how it unfolded.