WASHINGTON — The Pentagon quietly launched two counter-insurgency operations in Africa earlier this year even while officials were reviewing a disastrous, fatal 2017 operation in Niger and vowing to reduce the scope of efforts on the continent.
The new missions, along with a third in the Middle East, were noted in an appendix in a just-released report by the Department of Defense Inspector General that focused on anti-ISIS operations in Iraq and Syria.
“The DoD informed the DoD OIG that the new contingency operations are classified to safeguard U.S. forces’ freedom of movement, provide a layer of force protection, and protect tactics, techniques, and procedure,” the IG report says.
The IG said Defense Secretary James Mattis modified existing military orders on February 9, 2018, to designate the three new operations.
“These classified operations seek to degrade al-Qaeda and ISIS-affiliated terrorists in the Middle East and specific regions of Africa,” the report said. They were named Operation Yukon Journey, the Northwest Africa Counterterrorism overseas contingency operation, and the East Africa Counterterrorism overseas contingency operation, the report said.
“To report on these new contingency operations, the DoD OIG submitted a list of questions to the DoD about topics related to the operations, including the objectives of the operations, the metrics used to measure progress, the costs of the operations, the number of U.S. personnel involved, and the reason why the operations were declared overseas contingency operations,” the report said.
“The DoD provided classified responses to some of the questions, and those answers, along with an overview of the military activities during the quarter, are included in the classified appendix to this report. However, the DoD was unable to provide complete answers to some questions in time for publication this quarter. The DoD did not answer the question as to why it was necessary to designate these existing counterterrorism campaigns as overseas contingency operations or what benefits were conveyed with the overseas contingency operation designation,” the report said.
Overseas contingency operations are paid for through a special fund outside the normal Pentagon budget.
The revelation of the new secret missions comes as officials told TMN that two of the probes into the fatal October 2017 Niger mission have been extended.
Four U.S. Green Berets were killed in the ambush and four others wounded; four Niger troops also were killed.
Mattis was supposed to receive four separate, detailed reports on the ambush by August. He was not satisfied with two of them and set a new deadline of December for those incomplete efforts, senior Pentagon officials told TMN.
Those reports will include recommendations for punishment for some personnel involved in last year’s botched mission, as well as recommendations for recognition for valor, officials previously told TMN. They also will recommend tactical changes for operations on the continent, officials said.
According to an eight-page unclassified report on the Oct. 4, 2017, ambush, released in the spring, the deadly day resulted from “the compounding impact of tactical and operational decisions” for the fatal ambush and “no single failure or deficiency.”
The report also said false paperwork was filed to achieve approval of 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 previously told TMN.
Roughly 7,000 U.S. troops are acknowledged to be in Africa by some Pentagon officials; the CIA has not confirmed how many operatives ist has on African facilities.