joe dunfordJoint
Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford concluding his briefing
Monday about the Niger operation.
Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

  • Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford on Monday
    discussed the battle that left four US troops dead in
    Niger.
  • Though Dunford shed some light on the fight, many
    details, such as why US forces were unable to locate Sgt. La
    David Johnson’s body for two days, remained unclear.
  • Dunford asked for “a bit of patience” amid the
    continuing investigation.

 

Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford on Monday held a press
conference at the Pentagon in which he addressed reports that
officials were holding back information surrounding the battle in
Niger that left four US troops dead and two wounded early this
month.

Though Dunford offered a general timeline of events involving
what he said was a 12-person Special Forces detachment and 30
Nigerien partner forces, he refused to speculate on many details
until the full investigation ran its course.

Dunford said the coalition force began a reconnaissance mission
in Niger on October 3. He said contact with enemy troops was
believed to be “unlikely” at the time, but as the force was
returning to its operating base the next morning, he said, about
50 local ISIS-affiliated tribal fighters carried out an attack.

Asked why US troops were accompanying Nigerien forces, Dunford
said US forces would “only accompany partner forces when the
chances of enemy contact are unlikely.”

“If we have a specific threat to the homeland and local forces
are unable to deal with that threat, United States forces are
going to deal with that threat,” Dunford said. “But the bias is
towards enabling local African partners to conduct operations in
Africa.”

Dunford said US troops requested additional support about one
hour after first taking fire from militants armed with
rocket-propelled grenades, small arms, and civilian vehicles
outfitted for combat. French Mirage jets responded about 30
minutes later, according to Dunford.

It is unclear whether the jets were armed with bombs or what
effect they had on the battle.

Dunford said it was not yet known why the call for help came only
an hour into the battle, but he suggested the coalition force may
have initially thought it could handle the situation on its own.

“The one thing I would push back on hard is, I’m not putting any
pressure on that unit,” Dunford said. “I make no judgment as to
how long it took for them to ask for support.”

A remotely piloted aircraft was also dispatched after the call
for backup, Dunford continued, but he said it only relayed
intelligence did not strike at targets.

Myeshia Johnson sgt. La David JohnsonMyeshia
Johnson, the wife of US Army Sgt. La David Johnson, who was among
four Special Forces soldiers killed in Niger, at a graveside
service in Hollywood, Florida, on Saturday.
REUTERS/Joe
Skipper

US casualties were evacuated by French helicopters after the
firefight, but it wasn’t until the evening of October 6, two days
after the assault, that Sgt. La David Johnson’s body was
recovered by Nigerien forces, Dunford said. Though Johnson’s body
was found one mile from the scene of the ambush, according to
administration officials in a
CNN report
, Dunford declined to comment on specifics, citing
the ongoing investigation.

About 800 US troops are operating in Niger, along with 4,000
French troops in West Africa, Dunford said, adding that US forces
had been in Niger “on and off” for more than 20 years and were
stationed in the country to “defeat violent extremism in West
Africa.”

“This area is inherently dangerous,” Dunford said, adding: “We’re
there because ISIS and Al Qaeda are operating in that area.”

The White House has been criticized for its delayed response in
offering a clear picture of the circumstances leading to the
deaths of the US soldiers as well as five Nigerien troops.
President Donald Trump delivered his first remarks on the attack
about 12 days after it took place, and he eventually became mired
in
a dispute
with a Florida congresswoman who took issue with
his words in a call to Johnson’s widow.

Dunford said in carrying out the investigation, officials were
“trying to balance the need to do this quickly with the need to
make sure that it’s accurate.”

“We owe the families of the fallen more information,” Dunford
said.

Lawmakers seem intent on receiving more information on the
battle. Sen. John McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed
Services Committee, has
threatened
to issue a subpoena.

On Wednesday, McCain
said
the White House was not being up front about the Niger
ambush, and he said he would like the information his committee
“deserves and needs.”

“I haven’t heard anything about it, to tell you the truth, except
that they were killed,” McCain
said
in a Daily Beast report published last Tuesday.

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