Once again, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan has vowed that a new review he has ordered into the deaths of four soldiers in Niger two years ago will be completed quickly, but he did not give any kind of timeline for how long it will take.
“To the families: I'm not trying to delay a report,” Shanahan said when Task & Purpose asked about the review. “When I undertook the role, I wanted time to review the investigation, and really this is just an expedited way for me to make sure I have enough time to understand the reports and the details, so I expect this to go very, very quickly.”
Shanahan first told Congress last month that he had ordered a new review into the Oct. 4, 2017 ambush to make sure everyone is held accountable for mistakes leading up to the mission.
“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,” Shanahan told the House Armed Services Committee on March 26.
Shanahan's spokesman Army Lt. Col. Joe Buccino declined to say how quickly the review will be completed, telling Task & Purpose on Monday that the process will last “as long as it takes.”
A spokesman for U.S. Africa Command declined to discuss the new review ordered by Shanahan while it is ongoing.
“A complete and extensive understanding of the Niger incident is occurring at the highest level of the Department of Defense,” Air Force Col. Christopher Karns said on Monday. “It is important to ensure questions are completely and thoroughly answered, and the matter is handled with respect and consideration to all those involved.”
Nearly a year ago, the Pentagon announced that an investigation had found problems with how the Niger mission was planned and executed, but former Defense Secretary James Mattis was reportedly enraged that no senior commanders had been disciplined for their failures.
Army Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright, and Sgt. La David T. Johnson were killed when their convoy was overwhelmed by ISIS fighters. In December, the New York Times reported the head of U.S. Special Operations Command had asked if Wright could be eligible for the Medal of Honor.
Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) has repeatedly blasted AFRICOM and the Pentagon for not providing the four fallen soldiers' families with more information about the ill-fated mission and how their loved ones died.
“After two years, it's long past time the families of the fallen soldiers get some honest answers and for Acting Secretary Shanahan to comply with Congressional mandates regarding the Niger ambush,” Gallego, a Marine veteran, said on Monday. “The details of this incident must be brought to light and corrective action must be taken to ensure that the mistakes that were made are not repeated and that those responsible for them are appropriately disciplined.”