Four U.S. soldiers were reportedly left behind as the brunt of their Special Forces team was evacuated after being ambushed by ISIS-affiliated militants in Niger, The New York Times reported on Oct. 26.
About two hours after the U.S. troops called in for additional support, seven of the 11 soldiers were reportedly evacuated by French helicopters, leaving four U.S. soldiers — three of them Green Berets — behind, reports the Times. U.S. officials in the report suggested that other U.S. and coalition assets were nearby when the helicopters took off.
A second Special Forces team reportedly later made its way into the ambush site and located the bodies of Staff Sgt. Bryan Black, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson and Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright. Sgt. La David Johnson’s body was eventually recovered by Nigerien forces, two days later, nearly a mile away from the scene of the ambush, officials said to CNN.
Although the Times reported it was unclear whether the four U.S. troops were still alive when the evacuations took place, troops from the Joint Special Operation Command, an elite group of special operations forces, were told that there were U.S. troops missing. The four soldiers were reportedly no longer in radio contact.
The Defense Department left out key details of the ambush during its press conference on Monday and asked the public for patience as it investigates the incident. Military officials and lawmakers have estimated that it could take 30 to 60 days for the investigation to conclude, The Times said.
Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford said during a press conference on Oct. 23 that the Special Forces team and a group of Nigerien troops were conducting a reconnaissance mission in the area, and that contact with enemy troops was believed to be “unlikely” at the time.
Asked why U.S. troops were accompanying Nigerien forces, Dunford said U.S. forces would “only accompany partner forces when the chances of enemy contact are unlikely.”
“If we have a specific threat to the homeland and local forces are unable to deal with that threat, United States forces are going to deal with that threat,” Dunford said. “But the bias is towards enabling local African partners to conduct operations in Africa.”
Around 800 U.S. troops are operating in Niger, along with 4,000 French troops in West Africa, according to Dunford. U.S. forces have reportedly been in the region for more than 20 years and are stationed there to “defeat violent extremism in Africa,” in addition to dealing with the “global threat with foreign fighters,” Dunford said.
“This area is inherently dangerous,” he continued. “We’re there because ISIS and Al Qaeda are operating in that area.”
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