Three weeks after four US Army Special Forces soldiers died in a firefight with militants of the Islamic State, Americans still have more questions than answers. But according to NBC News, investigators are increasingly convinced that the ambush was arranged before they arrived.
Terrorists “were tipped off in advance about a meeting in a village sympathetic to local ISIS affiliates, three U.S. officials who have been briefed on the matter told NBC News.”
The group of American Green Berets and support soldiers had requested a meeting with elders of a village that was seen as supportive of ISIS, and they attended the meeting at around 11 a.m. local time on Oct. 4, after a long night of patrolling, the officials said. Such meetings are a routine part of the Green Beret mission, but it wasn’t clear whether this meeting was part of the unit’s plan.
During a press conference at the Pentagon yesterday, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff Gen. Joseph Dunford said that the Green Berets had been on a reconnaissance mission and it wasn’t clear whether or at what point the mission parameters had changed. But whatever their decisions were, it’s clear that the ambush began after they left the village of Tongo Tongo — and that some of the locals helped set them up.
Villagers sought to delay the troops as they tried to leave the village, according to officials. Once they departed, in unarmored vehicles, militants attacked them with small arms and machine-gun fire, the officials said.
The soldiers got back in their trucks and retreated about a mile before they were ambushed again. The attackers had trapped the Americans in a kill zone, the officials said, where they could envelop them in fire.
That movement may explain why Sgt. La David Johnson’s body was found more than a mile away from the area where his dead and wounded comrades were evacuated. But it also suggests that the American unit was woefully unaware of the tactical situation developing around them despite the presence of an unmanned surveillance aircraft.
The attackers were apparently even caught on camera while preparing for the ambush, but those images were not transmitted to anyone in the chain of command who could warn the soldiers.
Tongo Tongo village chief Mounkaila Alassane was arrested by Nigerien authorities after the attack. In an interview with Voice of America, mayor Almou Hassane said that “the attackers, the bandits, the terrorists have never lacked accomplices among local populations.”
However, VOA offered an account of the soldiers’ mission that conflicts with statements that they were only supposed to be conducting reconnaissance.
Moussa Askar, director of the newspaper l’Evènement in the capital, Niamey, said the soldiers were in the area to track down an accomplice of Abu Adnan al-Sahraoui, a former member of the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), who joined the Islamic State terror group in the Sahara Desert.
Questions linger. What role, if any, did the withdrawal of Chadian troops from the regional fight play in emboldening this ISIS faction? Why was no quick reaction force ready to come to their aid? Was their mission profile changed to a capture-and-kill operation, and who signed off on that change?
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