Four stations were marked by signs with the names of Team Ouallam along the 5K route for the Tongo Tongo Memorial Challenge Oct. 4, 2018, Nigerien Air Base 101, Niger. (U.S. Air Force / Tech. Sgt. Rachelle Coleman)
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.
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.
A senior Special Forces officer has been pulled from his leadership role in a security force assistance brigade which was preparing to deploy to Afghanistan later this month, apparently over his involvement in the 2017 Niger ambush, Politico reports.