More Clarity Brings More Questions on American Deaths in Niger

October 24, 2017, 12:24 PM UTC

The highest-ranking officer in the U.S. military provided more information Monday about the death of four American troops in Niger.

General Joseph Dunford, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the 12 American and 30 Nigerien troops were returning to base on October 4th when they were ambushed by about 50 ISIS fighters, CNN reported. The firefight lasted an hour before the troops called for additional support, at which point remotely piloted aircraft arrived within minutes. French Mirage jets and attack helicopters were dispatched to the station and a Nigerien quick reaction force arrived.

Still, four Americans and five Nigeriens were killed in the fight, and two further Americans were injured. The reconnaissance mission was not expected to meet resistance – in this region, the U.S. does not send troops to accompany Nigerien forces if combat is expected.

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General Dunford emphasised that many questions still remain, including the circumstances that led to one soldier, Sgt La David Johnson, being separated from the group. Johnson’s body was found two days later, though the precise location is unclear. In addition, the details of how the fight occurred and the reasons why the soldiers waited an hour to call for help remain unclear.

Johnson’s death was politicized when President Trump’s condolence call to his wife was overheard by Congresswoman Frederica Wilson (D–Florida). Wilson said Trump’s comment that Johnson “knew what he signed up for” was insensitive. The White House responded that the call was private. Trump had earlier alleged that previous presidents including President Obama didn’t call the families of American soldiers killed in action.

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General Dunford said Niger is host to the largest American force in sub-Saharan Africa, but some lawmakers were unaware that troops were stationed there.