The families of four U.S. soldiers killed in Niger last year will receive back pay now that the Pentagon has approved imminent danger pay for U.S. troops in several African countries, a Defense Department spokeswoman said on Thursday.
Pentagon personnel chief Robert Wilkie has approved danger pay for U.S. troops in Niger, Mali and the North and Far North Regions of Cameroon retroactive to June 7, 2017, said Air Force Maj. Carla Gleason. Troops will receive $225 for every full month they spend deployed in those countries and $7.50 per day for partial months. Hardship duty pay is being reduced from $150 to $100 per month in those countries because that is the maximum troops can receive in addition to danger pay.
The Defense Department normally does not allow troops to receive both hostile fire pay and imminent danger pay in the same month, but the Army has posthumously authorized hostile fire pay for the four soldiers killed in the Oct. 4 ambush, Gleason said in an email.
“Hostile fire pay and IDP [imminent danger pay] owed to a service member at his or her death — including any retroactive IDP — will be included in the final settlement of pay accounts made to survivors,” Gleason told Task & Purpose. “This would apply to payments of the survivors of the four soldiers killed in Niger.”
Army Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright, and Sgt. La David T. Johnson were killed on Oct. 4 when they were ambushed by Islamic State fighters in Niger. NBC first reported on Feb. 27 that they were not receiving danger pay at the time.
Marine Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, head of U.S. Africa Command, had originally requested that troops in Niger, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Mali and Nigeria receive danger pay, a defense official told Task & Purpose on Wednesday.
“The department evaluates each location independently, taking into account the combatant commander’s recommendation, the classified risk analysis, and any other information deemed relevant,” Gleason said on Thursday. “In some cases, this process may require some time to complete. However, if a location is designated for imminent danger pay, typically, the designation is retroactive, as it is in this case.”
Gleason did not say how Pentagon personnel chief Robert Wilkie decided which countries rate danger pay and which do not. The Defense Department will not comment on “internal deliberations” about this matter, she said.
“Wilkie determined that personnel conducting operations in these countries and regions meet one or more of the criteria payment of IDP, i.e., members of the armed forces on duty in an area are subject to the threat of physical harm or imminent danger because of civil insurrection, civil war, terrorism, or wartime conditions,” Gleason said.
On March 5, Waldhauser told lawmakers that he has sent an the results of an investigation into the incident to Defense Secretary James Mattis for his approval.
Rep. Jimmy Panetta, a California Democrat, asked Waldhauser how close the nearest quick reaction force was to the four soldiers who were killed during the ambush in Niger, but Waldhauser said AFRICOM is committed to informing the fallen soldiers’ families about the investigation’s findings before briefing Congress.
After the hearing, Panetta told Task & Purpose that he is concerned whether the four soldiers had the backup they needed.
“Our service members need adequate resources and support to execute their missions,” Panetta said in a statement. “When our troops operate in remote areas far from their traditional support bases, that support includes available and accessible quick reaction forces. If the service members in Niger did not have the resources required, Congress needs to execute its oversight responsibilities and ensure that such lapses in security do not happen again.”