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.
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."
The Department of Defense last month did an about-face on the punishments handed down to members of the Green Beret team deemed responsible for the deadly Oct. 4, 2017, ambush in Niger that left four Army Special Forces personnel dead, the New York Times reports, shifting blame from junior officers to more senior commanders following a furious intervention from Secretary of Defense James Mattis.
Major General Marcus Hicks, the senior officer reprimanded in connection with last year’s ambush in which four Army soldiers were killed in Niger, was not set up for success. The way this has been handled sends a clear message, but it is not a good one for building trust, accountability, and underwriting mistakes.
U.S Army/Elizabeth Fraser/Arlington National Cemetery
President Donald Trump drew laughs from some of his aides as he joked about what a “rough business” terrorism is while discussing an ambush in Niger that left four U.S. soldiers dead last year, according to a covert recording released Monday.