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Exactly two years after four Army special forces soldiers were killed in an ambush in Niger, the U.S. State Department is offering a reward of up to $5 million for information that would help it arrest anyone who helped plan or carry out the ambush.
In a press release on Friday, the State Department said it is also offering a separate reward of up to $5 million for information that would help it track down Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahrawi, the leader of the terrorist group Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISIS-GS), which claimed responsibility for the ambush.
According to the press release, the funding is offered through the State Department's Rewards for Justice Program, a 35-year-old program which has paid more than $150 million to more than 100 people "who provided actionable information that helped bring terrorists to justice or prevented acts of international terrorism worldwide."
The ambush occurred near the village of Tongo Tongo, in the desert of southwestern Niger. The four slain soldiers, Army Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright, and Sgt. La David T. Johnson, were part of a group of U.S. and Nigerien forces that set out in unarmored vehicles for a reconnaissance mission that morphed into a disastrous attempt to capture a terrorist. Five Nigerien soldiers were also killed in the attack.
The ambush kicked off an investigation into Army leadership decisions preceding the ambush. Investigators found a series of errors leading up to the mission, such as mischaracterizing the U.S. troops' initial mission as civil-military reconnaissance.
However, the review did not recommend for any high-level commanders to be punished.
The announcement comes the same day the company commander of the ambushed soldiers wrote an op-ed in The New York Times saying the Army botched its investigation of the ambush and failed to hold its senior leaders accountable.
The commander, former Army Maj. Alan Van Saun, said he received an unwarranted reprimand from the Army after the ambush. The reprimand effectively ended his career, he said.
"[W]hile subsequent reviews of the investigation offered yet another chance to hold people responsible, those opportunities fled quickly, leaving the chain of command, in which I had entrusted so much, unaccountable for decisions they made in my absence, but for which I was left responsible," Van Saun wrote.
Owen West is stepping down as assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict as of June 22, a defense official told Task and Purpose on Wednesday.
West decided to resign in order to spend more time with his family, said Pentagon spokeswoman Navy Cmdr. Candice Tresch.
A U.S Mine Resistant Ambush Protected All-Terrain Vehicle hit an explosive device on Saturday while entering a firing range near Ouallam, Niger, a spokesman for U.S. Africa Command said.
"There were four U.S. service members in the vehicle at the time of the IED detonation," Air Force Christopher Karns told Task & Purpose. "At this time, neither the U.S. nor partner force is reporting any casualties. As a precaution, U.S. service members have been recovered to a secure location and are being evaluated."
Four heroic soldiers killed nearly two years ago when they were ambushed by more than 100 ISIS fighters in Niger have posthumously received valor awards, defense officials announced on Wednesday.
Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright and Sgt. La David T. Johnson have both been awarded the Silver Star, a defense official said. Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black and Sgt. 1st Class Jeremiah W. Johnson have both received the Bronze Star with "V" device.
They were killed on Oct. 4, 2017 near the village of Tongo Tongo.
Two other special operators involved with the mission will receive the Silver Star; one will receive the Bronze Star with "V" device; one will receive the Army Commendation Medal with "V" device; and one will receive the Army Commendation Medal with "C" device, said Pentagon spokeswoman Navy Cmdr. Candice Tresch.
The Pentagon said on Thursday it has started a new, "narrowly-scoped" review of a deadly 2017 ambush in Niger, in which four U.S. soldiers were killed, to see whether additional punishments were needed.
The ambush, carried out by a local Islamic State affiliate, brought increased scrutiny of the U.S. counter-terrorism mission in the West African country.
A Pentagon report released late last year found that a series of individual and organizational failures, including a lack of training and situational awareness, contributed to the ambush. While no punishments were made public, lawmakers have expressed concern that junior officers could be blamed for the incident.
"Acting Secretary (Patrick) Shanahan has initiated a new, narrowly-scoped review into the Niger incident," Pentagon spokeswoman Commander Candice Tresch said. She said a four-star flag officer would lead the review.
Some current and former officials have expressed surprise at the decision to take a fresh look at the incident, particularly after the amount of public scrutiny the previous report received.
President Donald Trump's handling of condolence messages to the families of the dead U.S. soldiers was criticized by lawmakers in Washington and raised the profile of the deadly incident.
SEE ALSO: Shanahan Says New Niger Review Will Be Completed Quickly But Won't Say When It Will Be Finished
WATCH NEXT: Rep. Ruben Gallego Demands Answers On Niger Ambush
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 … [former Defense Secretary James Mattis] 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."