WASHINGTON — Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan has concluded his review of past reports regarding the deadly 2017 ambush of U.S. forces in Niger and has decided to take no further action.
Shanahan himself did not address the issue publicly but several Pentagon officials confirmed the decision, albeit with various explanations as to where the matter rests now.
Sgt. La David Johnson, Staff Sgt. Bryan Black, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson and Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright were killed in the October 2017 ambush in the village of Tongo Tongo after the U.S. force was diverted from what was supposed to be a routine patrol and sent instead on a capture-or-kill raid on an ISIS-affiliated militant.
Four Niger soldiers also were killed and four other U.S. service personnel were wounded in the ambush.
“From the beginning, the investigation into what happened that day has been poorly handled at all levels. Nearly two years later, we are still waiting for answers,” Rep. Reuben Gallego (D-Ariz.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said Wednesday in a statement.
“The Pentagon has refused to comply with the mandate to provide Congress with a comprehensive account of what went wrong and the lessons learned, and to provide the families of those lost with any semblance of closure,” he said.
Then-Defense Secretary James Mattis rejected the initial examinations into the ambush. He ordered new reviews that were to be completed by December but parts were still lingering when Mattis left office on Dec. 31, 2018, according to sources interviewed by TMN who are part of the process.
Shanahan announced in April that he would have yet another independent review of the reviews.
Politico was the first to report Shanahan would not take any additional action or order punishments.
“Following an extensive investigation into the attack, the Department of Defense identified numerous areas for improvement and lessons learned to help prevent this type of incident from occurring again in the future. After a thorough review of those reports, Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan concurred with all of the findings, awards and accountability,” Cdr. Candice Tresch, a Pentagon spokesperson, said in a statement to CNN.
However, Tresch would not confirm that statement to TMN.
“The Department’s primary concern throughout the investigation, report and review process is with the families of fallen members. In deference to these families and our desire to provide face-to-face notifications of any updates regarding findings, awards and accountability, it would be inappropriate to provide additional information until the conclusion of all such notifications,” Tresch said in a statement to TMN.
All families of those slain and wounded have already been informed of the results of the various reviews in the spring of 2018 and then again at the beginning of this year.
The deadly Oct. 4, 2017, day resulted from “the compounding impact of tactical and operational decisions” for the fatal ambush and “no single failure or deficiency,” according to the eight-page unclassified report released in spring 2018.
The report also said false paperwork was filed to achieve approval of the mission.
La David Johnson, whose body was found two days after the ambush, and Wright are to receive the Silver Star for valor. Jeremiah Johnson and Black will receive the Bronze Star. Two additional soldiers are to receive the Silver Star, the Pentagon has said.
Among those reprimanded have been the commander of special operations forces in Africa, who was already set to retire; the leader of the Green Beret team that was ambushed; and a battalion commander based in Chad.
“One thing is clear: mistakes were made that cost these men’s lives,” Gallego said. “Their families — and the American public — deserve clear answers about what happened, who will be held accountable, and what will be done to prevent this from ever happening again.”