Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan has ordered a new review into who should be punished for failures leading up to the Oct. 4, 2017 ambush in Niger, in which four U.S. soldiers were killed.
On Tuesday, Shanahan faced pointed questions from Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) about when he will decide which service members should be reprimanded for the ambush and which troops should receive awards for their heroism during the battle.
"When I came into this role … had convened a review and that recommendation was brought to me," Shanahan said. "I did not find that sufficient, so I convened my own review so I can ensure from top to bottom there is the appropriate accountability."
The new review should be completed "soon," said Shanahan, who was unable to provide a specific time line.
"I do not know when that will be complete, but I have to assume that much of the work that's been done to date can be used," he said. "So by saying 'soon,' I am not trying to mislead you."
Army Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright, and Sgt. La David T. Johnson fought to the death when their convoy was ambushed by an overwhelming force of ISIS fighters near the village of Tongo Tongo.
A top Army commander has asked if Wright is eligible for the Medal of Honor, the New York Times reported on Dec. 7.
News of the new review comes roughly four months after Mattis exploded at top military officials for placing all the blame for the ambush on the Niger mission's team leader, ignoring the more senior commanders who approved and oversaw the operation, the New York Times first reported on Dec. 7.
In February, a Special Forces lieutenant colonel was abruptly fired as battalion commander of the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Security Force Assistance Brigade shortly before the unit deployed to Afghanistan because Mattis had "expressed dissatisfaction" that he had been twice cleared of any wrongdoing in connection with the Niger ambush, according to a Feb. 5 Politico story.
Gallego, a Marine veteran, was adamant that the Pentagon should not blame the junior officers for the deadly ambush while leaving colonels and general officers "off the hook for this debacle," he said.
Shanahan assured the congressman that the "fundamental reason" he has ordered a new look into the Niger ambush is to ensure that everyone from troops on the ground to the most senior commanders are held accountable for what went wrong.
Still, Gallego expressed frustration with the Defense Department for not yet providing Congress with a report listing all recommendations that have been implemented since the Niger ambush.
If the Pentagon continues to withhold information about the ambush more than two years after the deadly event, Gallego will recommend the House Armed Services Committee begin using its subpoena power to get the Defense Department to comply, he warned.
"The Pentagon's unwillingness or inability to comply with a mandate to provide Congress with a comprehensive list of lessons learned, provide families to the Soldiers killed on the raid with appropriately redacted mission reports, reprimand those senior officers responsible for the systematic failings that led to this disaster, and award those who showed heroism despite a hopeless tactical situation is an indictment of the level of competence, professionalism, and deference to Congressional authority that seems to accurately describe leadership at DoD at present," Gallego said in a statement.
"I will continue to push for overdue reports and for details on this apparently 'new' review of the issues surrounding the Niger ambush. The Pentagon should not be allowed to sweep the details of the issue under the rug, especially not to protect the careers of senior officials who screwed up and got people killed. Our duty to the Soldiers who were killed and to their surviving comrades and families demands no less."