WASHINGTON — The families of four soldiers killed in a 2017 ambush in Niger are angry at the Pentagon after learning there will be no further disciplinary action beyond punishment dealt to lower-ranking officials.
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.
Among those reprimanded have been the commander of special operations forces in Africa, Air Force Maj. Gen. Marcus Hicks, who was already set to retire; the leader of the Green Beret team that was ambushed; and a battalion commander based in Chad.
However, no senior officials — including the head of African Command, Gen. Thomas Waldhauser — were disciplined in any way. At one point, Waldhauser was considered for some type of official action, Pentagon officials previously told TMN.
“I’m angry as hell,” Debra Gannon, the mother of Jeremiah Johnson, told “ABC News” on Wednesday.
On Wednesday, family members of the slain soldiers received redacted copies of the original investigation that was completed last spring — essentially the same information they had received a year ago.
That is despite that fact that at least three subsequent investigations into the ambush occurred during 2018.
Two senior Green Berets in the chain of command for the botched mission, Col. Brad Moses and Lt. Col. David Painter, will not receive administrative punishments; that means they will be eligible for future promotions and commands.
According to various new reports, Painter did receive a minor reprimand that was not career-ending, and thus he remains up for a promotion.
“I don’t see how people in the direct chain of command are being promoted when it was their decision to override the ground commander (who) was instrumental in my son’s death,” Arnold Wright, father of Dustin Wright, told ABC. “I don’t think any of the families feel satisfied with any of it, the way it’s been handled.”
Late Wednesday night, acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan — who had ordered his own review of the previous reviews — announced the “Finalization of the Niger 15-6 investigation” in a statement.
“Having examined an independent review by a senior general officer of the investigation into the 2017 ambush in Niger, I am satisfied that all findings, awards, and accountability actions were thorough and appropriate,” Shanahan said in the statement.
“Throughout the process, our primary concern has been the families of the fallen. We knew we had to be thorough to ensure the right decisions were made for our service members and provide the opportunity for closure to the families,” he said.
The Pentagon’s position is not likely to sit well with House members who have demanded a full explanation of the why, who and how of the October 2017 ambush.
“Reports that Acting Secretary Shanahan intends to let the blame for the Niger disaster lie on junior officers and enlisted personnel is a shirking of responsibility to the memory and families of the deceased,” Rep. Reuben Gallego (D-Ariz.) said in a statement. He is a member of the House Armed Services Committee.