Niamey, Niger — On Saturday the government of Niger held a memorial ceremony for its fallen in a square outside the mortuary building of the National Hospital in the capital city of Niamey. In attendance were members of the U.S. Army’s elite Green Berets to pay homage to the four Nigerien soldiers who fought and died as brothers in arms alongside U.S. Special Forces soldiers during a harrowing firefight after being ambushed by a large force suspected of being aligned to a terror group known as The Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISIS-GS).
The four Nigeriens who died during the ambush were assigned to a specialized security and intelligence battalion based in Ouallam, Niger within the Nigerien Army who in turn had Green Berets from the U.S. Army 3rd Special Forces Group assigned to them in a train/advise/assist role for the Nigerien counterinsurgency campaign in and around the village of Tongo Tongo within the southwestern border region of Niger and Mali.
Details of the ambush on the joint Green Beret-Nigerien force near the village of Tongo Tongo are still murky. Yet, what is known is that the 30 plus joint force came under a surprise attack by what is reported to have been a large group of about 50 insurgents affiliated with the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISIS-GS). The enemy force enveloped the team under withering heavy machine gun and small arms fire, some of which were mounted to trucks known as technicals.
The joint Green Beret- Nigerien team were split into two and separated from one another amidst the ambush. One group of six split from the main assault and from what was explained to SOFREP, began moving themselves out of the kill box to possibly gain a more advantageous flanking position on the enemy in order to engage them. The other portion of the team was trapped inside the ambush and would fight their aggressors until the end.
The attack would claim the lives of four U.S. soldiers, two Green Berets and two support soldiers. One support soldier we now know to have been missing in action along with four Nigerien counterparts.
French Special Operations forces along the border of Burkina Faso and Niger responded to the requests for help from the joint Green Beret team and helicoptered into the Tongo Tongo region where the ambush was taking place to reenforce the team. French Special Forces then used their helicopters to evacuate the team along with the dead and wounded back to Niamey. Yet, in the chaos of the ambush were unable to locate U.S. Army Sergeant La David Johnson, who therefore was deemed missing in action.
What we now know is that Sgt. Johnson had been missing in the remote Tongo Tongo region for 48 hours. Initially the Pentagon remained silent about this information as with any U.S. soldier designated missing in action within a hostile zone. This set in motion a fast-paced high-level special operations clandestine hostage rescue mission planning cycle to locate and extract the missing U.S. soldier or person. As expected, the Pentagon withheld this information to protect the secrecy of a potential rescue attempt by specialized elements within U.S. Special Operations.
Yet, after reporting began flooding in that a U.S. soldier was missing in action for two days in Niger and that the as of yet identified body of Sgt. Johnson was discovered, the inconsistencies coming from the Pentagon began to emerge.
What was reported initially was that a group of French and Nigerien forces were actively searching the area around the ambush site in order to locate Johnson, and get him to safety and medical treatment. Sadly that was not the case and Johnson’s body was found a short distance from the initial ambush site. The Pentagon reported that Johnson was found deceased and recovered by a Nigerien military unit and was then returned to the Americans in the highest of military honors.
Then this morning the Pentagon released a press statement saying that U.S. personnel were in fact the ones that recovered the body of Sgt. Johnson and that he is to be returning to U.S. soil within the next few days.
The inconsistency of the Pentagon reporting on this violent attack that resulted in soldiers losing their lives isn’t all that unexpected. This situation is still being picked apart by senior military officials as we speak to gain a clearer picture regarding what occurred. And there has been no acknowledgment of the events or the deaths of four U.S. soldiers that occurred in Niger from the White House or from President Donald Trump. However what is important is that both U.S. and Nigerien soldiers who lost their lives on Wednesday are being honored by both nations’ militaries.
Green Berets attending the funeral memorials of these Nigerien soldiers is not unique to this event. A part of what makes Green Berets special is that these elite soldiers understand the power of ground level rapport and friendship building with other foreign armies. Green Berets are ambassadors of the United States and its foreign policy, they study the intricacies and innuendo of local customs and cultures and assimilate these ethos of their host nation to build a bond and trust between warriors.
These Green Berets and Nigeriens have forged a brotherhood under fire and will always consider one another as a part of their brothers in arms.
Feature image courtesy of: Twitter