The latest on the Niger ambush

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The latest on the Niger ambush

I haven’t written about the Niger ambush yet that killed four Americans because we really haven’t had a lot of information on it, and the resulting dispute over those killed is taking on a decidedly partisan angle, which I try to stay away from.  For starters, as a briefer on the issue, ABC News has a pretty good piece.

Frankly, the controversy over what was said, or not said depending on who you believe, is taking away from the real questions that exist.  Just what was the mission?  Why would they get a fragmentary order to go after a High Value Target in the middle of another OP.  Presumably they got intel, but why not use drones?  It’s fairly irregular to launch a mission without having a complete operations order.  Especially so when you have only 8 Green Berets and 4 support soldiers.  One of them was a truck mechanic and the other was a Nuclear, Biological, Chemical specialist.  They aren’t usually trained to take down HVT’s.

NBC News has two stories out today that are both fairly good:

An emerging theory among U.S. military investigators is that the Army Special Forces soldiers ambushed in Niger were set up by terrorists, who were tipped off in advance about a meeting in a village sympathetic to local ISIS affiliates, three U.S. officials who have been briefed on the matter told NBC News…

Investigators are leaning toward a conclusion that local militants used the meeting in the village of Tongo Tongo to mount a sneak attack, officials said. Villagers sought to delay the troops as they tried to leave the village, according to officials. Once they departed, in unarmored vehicles, militants attacked them with small arms and machine-gun fire, the officials said.

The other article from NBC has more:

The U.S. Special Forces unit that came under attack in Niger earlier this month had been pursuing a senior militant, multiple U.S. officials told NBC News.

The officials did not provide the name of the target, whom one of the officials described as an ISIS recruiter. The soldiers did not succeed in catching him…

One theory, said an official with direct knowledge of the military's investigation, is that the soldiers were gathering information about the target, and, after learning his whereabouts, decided to pursue him. A big question would then be whether the unit got authorization, and whether the risks were assessed.

So it seems from the video and the articles that one of three things happened.  Either the SF unit got delayed while ISIS set up the ambush, INTEL came from somewhere else, and the unit was sent out to take the guy down, or they got the intel on their own from the villagers, and just went out to find him.  But theories 2 and 3 seem to violate regular procedures.  Even if you got that INTEL, it would be customary to send it to the S2 (the people who handle intelligence) to vet the information, and then allow some time for a train up.  At the least you would want to have satellite imagery of the location, and probably air assets on station.  We know from the ABC video that the closest air assets were French, and over an hour away. 

The whole thing seems odd, and I’m looking forward to reading the After Action Report on just what went down, but I would imagine there are some very nervous people in that chain of command right now, and rightfully so.  When a mission goes this bad, and we lose people, generally folks get relieved of their commands.

But that is nothing compared to the anguish and anger of the families back home.  Either way, may be a while before we hear what actually went down.

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News from the World of Military and Veterans Issues. Iraq and A-Stan in parenthesis reflects that the author is currently deployed to that theater.