Defense Secretary James Mattis wants answers regarding the ambush by 50 ISIS-affiliated fighters that left four US soldiers dead and two wounded in Niger two weeks ago, three senior US defense officials told on Wednesday.
Mattis is dismayed at the lack of detailed information he has received about about the attack, but there is no indication he is trying to unduly hurry the investigation being carried out by US Africa Command, according to all three officials — all of whom are in a position to have knowledge of how Mattis views the situation.
“This was a hard fight, this was a very tough fight,” Mattis told reporters last week — providing little detail about what multiple US officials have described to CNN as a scene of confusion on the ground during an unexpected firefight.
The investigation will be an effort “to get all the facts correct,” an administration official familiar with the review has told CNN.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders was asked Wednesday whether Trump was satisfied with the information he has received about the mission and ambush.
“I believe they’re still looking into the details of that,” Sanders replied. “But I don’t think that the President can ever be satisfied when there’s loss of life from men and women in uniform.”
What we know
Details related to the deadly military breakdown remain murky two weeks after the incident in Niger as investigators work to determine precisely what happened, a US official has told CNN.
Experts working for Africa Command are trying to establish an hour-by-hour timeline of what happened as part of a comprehensive investigation that includes all the military branches and elements of US intelligence agencies that were involved in the mission.
Very little has been said publicly, but the information that has emerged in the wake of the attack paints a troubling picture of what transpired.
Here is what we do know:
Four US soldiers were killed and two wounded: In what is the deadliest combat mission of Trump’s short presidency to date, the Defense Department has identified all four service members killed in the ambush that occurred near the Niger-Mali border by up to 50 fighters from ISIS in the Greater Sahara, a US official said.
Sgt. La David Johnson, Staff Sgt. Bryan Black, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson and Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright died as a result of the October 4 attack, after helping local forces in Niger combat terrorists.
The 12-member US team was leaving a meeting in unarmored pick-up trucks when they began taking fire from small arms, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, according to a US defense official.
With window glass exploding all around them, the service members, including multiple Army Special Forces soldiers, exited the vehicles, ran for cover, and began returning fire, killing some of the attacking militants.
Officials said the 12-man Green Beret-led team had just completed a meeting with local leaders and were walking back to their unarmored pick-up trucks when the unexpected ambush resulted in a firefight that lasted 30 minutes until French Mirage jets arrived overhead to fly low passes in an attempt to disperse the attackers.
Sgt. La David Johnson was separated: A large-scale search-and-rescue operation involving US, French and Nigerien troops was launched soon after US officials realized one of the US service members was unaccounted for.
Johnson was later identified as the fourth service member killed in the attack.
His body was recovered in a remote area of the northwestern African country by Nigerien troops nearly 48 hours after he was discovered missing in the wake of the attack, according to US officials.
His body was returned to Dover Air Force Base on October 7.