Congressman urges Pentagon to stop hiding details of fatal Niger ambush
General Thomas Waldhauser, commander of U.S. Africa Command, and Senior Leadership of the Libya External Office debark a U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey with Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response-Africa in Tunisia in 2018 U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Britni M. Garcia Green)
WASHINGTON — Pentagon officials continue to wrestle with different framing of reports as to what occurred in a deadly ambush in Niger in the fall of 2017, officials have said in interviews.
The reshuffling and recasting of reports is partly because of shifting focus on which individuals should be reprimanded for the surprise attack that left four U.S. service personnel dead and others wounded.
“It concerns me that the Department of Defense is still hiding this information,” Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) said Thursday during a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee. “It has been (almost) two years and I think we will have to take extraordinary measures” to get the full information.
Appearing before the committee were Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Kathryn Wheelbarger; Army Gen. Joseph Votel, commander, U.S. Central Command, and Marine Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, commander, U.S. Africa Command.
“All the reports will be ready as soon as the final decision by the Secretary of Defense is made,” Wheelbarger said.
Gallego, a Marine veteran of the Iraq war, expressed disdain at the delay in providing a full accounting — adding as a former Marine it sends a poor signal to the ranks when such mission failure goes unpunished and not fully reported.
Sgt. La David Johnson, Staff Sgt. Bryan Black, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson and Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright were killed in the October 2017 ambush. Four Niger soldiers were also killed and four other U.S. service personnel wounded.
The initial examinations into the ambush were rejected by then-Defense Secretary James Mattis. Those second reviews were to be completed by December but parts are still lingering, according to sources interviewed by TMN who are part of the process.
At least three reprimands have been issued in the aftermath of the ambush and more than a dozen logistical changes in mission operations in Africa have been implemented.
At one point Waldhauser was among those being considered for some reprimand, several Pentagon officials said in interviews but that now was not likely.
The deadly October. 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 the spring 2018.
The report also said false paperwork was filed to achieve approval of the mission.