Body of 4th Soldier Killed in Niger Ambush Found a Mile From Battle Site

October 21, 2017 Updated: October 23, 2017

The Department of Defense is investigating why the body of a fourth Special Forces soldier killed in an ambush in Niger on Oct. 4 ended up a mile from the site of the attack.

“The loss of our troops is under investigation,” said Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. “We investigate anytime we have our troops killed, whether it be in a training accident or combat.”

The FBI has also joined the investigation into the ambush.

However, various lawmakers, most notably Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), have demanded answers as to what went wrong while the soldiers were on patrol.

McCain raised the possibility on Thursday of issuing a subpoena as a means to get answers from the Trump administration about the attack.

Questions have been raised about where the body was found, and why the soldier, Sgt. La David Johnson, was left behind.

Johnson was part of a Special Forces (Green Beret) squad advising and assisting Nigerien soldiers patrolling north of the country’s capital. The force of about a dozen Green Berets and 40 Nigerien soldiers were ambushed by about 50 Islamic terrorists.

Four Green Berets and five Nigerien soldiers were killed in the attack. The other three U.S. soldiers who lost their lives were Staff Sgt. Bryan Black, 35, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson, 39, Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright, 29. Sgt. Johnson was only 25.

U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis (2nd R) answers reporters' questions about the American soldiers who were killed in Niger at the Pentagon on October 19, 2017 in Arlington, Virginia. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Defense Secretary Gen. Jim Mattis (2nd R) answers reporters’ questions about the American soldiers who were killed in Niger at the Pentagon on Oct. 19, 2017, in Arlington, Va. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

US Troops Provide Vital Support

The United States has 800-1,000 troops in Niger operating in an advise-and-assist role. Niger’s borders are beset by Islamic terrorist groups allied with of inspired by al-Qaeda, such as al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or ISIS-influenced groups like Boko Haram. There are also 4,000 French soldiers in the country.

These four lives were the first U.S. military fatalities in the country. U.S. troops have been on the ground in Niger since at least 2012.

Mattis said “Terrorists are conducting war on innocent people of all religions, they are conducting war on innocent people who have no way to defend themselves.

“We’re providing refueling support, intelligence support, surveillance support,” Mattis said.

“But also we have troops on the ground. Their job is to help the people in the region learn how to defend themselves.

“We call it foreign internal defense training, and we actually do these kinds of missions by, with, and through our allies,” he said. “In this specific case, contact was considered unlikely, but there’s a reason we have U.S. Army soldiers there and not the Peace Corps, because we carry guns.

US Navy Lt. Cmdr. Anthony Falvo, a spokesman for U.S. Africa Command, further clarified the role of U.S. forces in the region:

“US forces are in Niger to provide training and security assistance to the Nigerien Armed Forces, including support for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance efforts, in their efforts to target violent extremist organizations in the region.

“One aspect of that is training, advising and assisting the Nigeriens in order to increase their ability to bring stability and security to their people.”

Niger is one of the countries Islamic terrorists use as a pathway from sub-Saharan Africa to North Africa and on to Europe.