A series of individual and organisational failures, including lack of training and situational awareness, contributed to a deadly ambush in Niger last year that killed four US soldiers, a partial Pentagon report said.
The October ambush by a local Islamic State affiliate brought increased scrutiny of the US counter-terrorism mission in the West African country and the report will raise more questions about US military operations on the continent.
President Donald Trump’s handling of condolence messages to the families of the dead US soldiers was criticised by lawmakers in Washington and raised the profile of the incident.
“The investigation identifies individual, organisational and institutional failures and deficiencies that contributed to the tragic events of 4 October 2017 … no single failure or deficiency was the sole reason for the events,” an eight-page summary of the report says. A redacted version of the complete report may not be publicly released for months.
The report did not assign blame, but said recommendations were made to US Special Operations Command on actions that could be taken against personnel. The top US military official in Africa said ultimately he was responsible.
“I take ownership for events connected to the ambush of 4 October. Again, the responsibility is mine,” Marine General Thomas Waldhauser, head of US Africa Command, said during a Pentagon press briefing.
Before the US Special Operations Forces Team arrived in Niger, high personnel turnover prevented the team from carrying out important pre-deployment team training, the report found.
Only half the team trained together when it arrived in Niger in the fall of 2017.
On October 3, the Special Forces team, along with partner Niger forces, set out to target a key Islamic State militant near Tiloa village. The team had not trained for the mission and did not notify higher-level commanders it would be undertaking it.
While the team mischaracterised this mission, the report did not find a direct link between that and the ambush that killed the four US soldiers.
The top US general said last year the team was on a reconnaissance mission.
On the way back to base, after carrying out a separate intelligence gathering mission, the team stopped at Tongo Tongo village to resupply. It was then US soldiers, along with their Nigerien partners, were ambushed by militants.
The report and a 10-minute video shown to reporters details the gun battle and how at one point US Army Sergeant La David Johnson sought to run away from the militants after he was unable to enter his vehicle. He was killed 1,000m from the vehicle.
Evidence shows all four soldiers were stripped of serviceable equipment and militants attempted to take the bodies with them.
Two bodies were in the back of a militant vehicle and one body next to it, said Army Major General Roger Cloutier, who led the investigation into the ambush.
As a result of the October incident, US forces in Africa would now be more “prudent” in carrying out missions and improvements have been made in areas such as firepower and equipment, response times and level of intelligence provided, Waldhauser said.