Punishments now being considered for fatal Niger mission one year ago

Punishments now being considered for fatal Niger mission one year ago

U.S. Marines assigned to Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response-Africa ground combat element trained with the Cameroon Marines in infantry tactics at a training site in Cameroon, Feb. 13, 2018. SPMAGTF-CR-AF is deployed to conduct theater-security operations in Europe and Africa. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Gunnery Sgt. Rebekka S. Heite)

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is considering punishment for some personnel involved in last year’s botched mission in Niger, one year after the rogue mission cost the lives of four U.S. soldiers.

Those identified for the recommended punishments, which would have to be approved by the military chain of command, would likely include enlisted men and officers, some Pentagon officials told TMN. Pentagon officials said it was unlikely that the head of U.S. African Command (AFRICOM), Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, would face any admonishment.

In August, Defense Secretary James Mattis received four reports from four branches of the military on the ambush. Those reports included recommendations for adjustments to U.S. operations in Africa as well as personnel suggestions. Some of those operational recommendations have already been implemented.

An eight-page unclassified report on the Oct. 4, 2017, ambush, released in the spring, said the deadly day was “the compounding impact of tactical and operational decisions” for the fatal ambush and “no single failure or deficiency.”

It also said that false paperwork was filed to achieve approval of the mission. The ambush of U.S. and Niger troops last October left four U.S. and four Niger soldiers dead and others wounded.

Pentagon officials said this summer that some of those who participated in the mission would be recommended for recognition for valor.

The four U.S. Green Berets killed in the ambush — Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright, Sgt. La David Johnson, Sgt. 1st Class Jeremiah Johnson, and Staff Sgt. Bryan Black — are among those being considered for medals. Also being considered is the commanding officer, a captain, who was one of those criticized for the faulty mission planning.

One year after the mission, the Pentagon and the CIA are continuing to operate at least 25 facilities in Africa even as defense officials review a possible recalibration of the U.S. footprint on the continent in the aftermath of last year’s fatal mission in Niger, Pentagon officials told TMN.

There are roughly 7,000 U.S. troops acknowledged to be in Africa by some Pentagon officials; the CIA has not confirmed how many operatives is has on African facilities.

The Pentagon eschews the use of the word “base” for any facility, in large part because of political sensitivities to host nations. Instead, the locations are usually designated as a forward operating site (FOS), cooperative security location (CSL), or contingency locations (CL).  Many of the locations are used to coordinate drone surveillance and strikes in conjunction with the CIA.

AFRICOM began initial operations in October 2007. At the time, at least eight nations publicly expressed interesting hosting the command’s headquarters but the decision was made to keep the command headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany.

U.S. troops have been in Djibouti for years. Camp Lemonnier is the largest permanent U.S. base in Africa and serves as the hub for operations against in the region. Niger has the next largest U.S. presence, followed by Somalia and Cameroon.

The numbers made public are widely considered underestimated. For example, in documents provided to Congress two years ago, AFRICOM cited 36 U.S. outposts scattered across 24 African countries.

In May 2016, then AFRICOM spokesman Colonel Mark Cheadle told the media that the U.S. military was considering 11 locations for CSLs. A 2014 article in Army Sustainment said there were “at least nine forward operating locations, or FOLs” — using a different terminology. A 2007 Defense Department news release referred to a FOL in Charichcho, Ethiopia and in Kampala, Uganda. A 2010 report by the Government Accountability Office listed FOLs in Isiolo and Manda Bay, both in Kenya. A 2011 Congressional Research Service cited U.S. access to outposts in Algeria, Botswana, Namibia, São Tomé and Príncipe, Sierra Leone, Tunisia, and Zambia.

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