WASHINGTON — Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan has launched yet another review of a deadly ambush of U.S. forces in Niger in 2017, alluding to the idea that some senior officers should be considered for reprimands for their role in the mission.
Shanahan made the announcement Tuesday during an appearance before the House Armed Services Committee during sharp questioning by Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), one of Congress’ leading voices in pushing for full answers regarding the circumstances of that ambush.
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 also were killed and four other U.S. service personnel wounded.
Then-Defense Secretary James Mattis rejected the initial examinations into the ambush. He ordered new reviews that 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 Marine Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, commander, U.S. Africa Command, was among those being considered for reprimand, several Pentagon officials said in interviews, but it was unlikely to occur.
Gallego said Tuesday that Mattis “was furious” that blame for the ambush was placed on lower-ranking enlisted personnel and officers while those at the top were escaping scrutiny.
Shanahan said he convened his own review “so I can ensure from top to bottom” who was responsible for the mission failure and why forces were diverted into a search for a terrorist leader, which led to the ambush.
Shanahan told Gallego he did not know when his review would be completed. “I will take that for the record,” he said.
Gallego has used previous hearings to prod Waldhauser and others to provide more details on the fatal ambush, with many promises proferred but few answers.
“This committee has not used its subpoena power for quite some time. If this (no answers) continues to be the case, I will be pushing for that,” Gallego said. “Junior officers should know there is going to be (reprimands), especially for general officers.”
Gallego later said he was not satisfied with Shanahan’s response.
“It is unreasonable for a review of the Niger ambush – a catastrophe now two years old – to still be pending, let alone for a new review to be started at this late date,” he told TMN in a statement.
“The Pentagon should not be allowed to sweep the details of the issue under the rug, especially not to protect the careers of senior officials who screwed up and got people killed,” he said. “Our duty to the Soldiers who were killed and to their surviving comrades and families demands no less.”
Gallego said the Pentagon’s “unwillingness or inability to comply with a mandate to provide Congress” with a full report “is an indictment of the level of competence, professionalism, and deference to Congressional authority that seems to accurately describe leadership at DoD at present.”
The deadly Oct. 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.