Niamey, Niger — A village elder has arrested an unknown number of residents in the village of Tongo Tongo located in southwestern Niger today under the suspicion of having a hand in the October 4th attack on a joint U.S.-Nigerien Special Forces unit by a large force suspected of being aligned to a terror group known as The Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISIS-GS) that killed four U.S. Special Forces soldiers as well as four of the team’s Nigerien counterparts.
These detainments by the village elder of several persons of interest came just two days after a senior Pentagon official told CNN that the after-action investigation interviews with the surviving Green Beret team members who are assigned to the U.S. Army 3rd Special Forces Group based in Fort Bragg, North Carolina indicated that the team was delayed from leaving the village after they felt the meeting with local leaders was ending. Thus the team suspects that several individuals within that meeting may have been colluding with the terrorist group which resulted in the ambush that claimed eight lives.
The timeline of events provided by the Pentagon indicates that the Green Beret team along with soldiers from its support section accompanied their Nigerien counterparts in a convoy of unarmored pick up trucks or technicals to a meeting with local leadership in the village of Tongo Tongo. Once there, half of the 12 man Green Beret team split from the main force and attended the meet with their Nigerien command counterparts.
The other part of the Green Beret team was left to oversee the security of the joint U.S.-Nigerien convoy. As the meeting continued, the Green Berets in attendance were just beginning to become suspicious that some in the meeting were delaying their departure for some reason, when the meeting was interrupted with the sounds of heavy automatic machine gun fire punctuated with the explosions of rocket-propelled grenades slamming into their marks.
A large group of about 50 insurgents from the newly formed off-shoot of the Islamic State terror group known as the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISIS-GS) had moved men and vehicles into an ambush position and had begun ripping apart the Green Berets and Nigeriens left outside to protect the convoy.
The attack and ensuing gun battle would split up the Green Beret team leaving the Americans and Nigeriens scrambling for cover while fighting for their lives. After the initial shock of the ambush subsided, the joint U.S. – Nigerien force having suffered casualties began inflicting its own damage on the ISIS-GS fighters who began suffering heavy casualties of their own. During this ensuing firefight is when it is suspected that Sergeant LaDavid Johnson may have been separated from the group.
French Special Forces operating along the Burkina Faso-Nigerien border heard the calls for help from the Green Beret team under fire, formed a quick reaction force (QRF) and within 30 minutes had two Puma helicopters screaming fast and low towards Tongo Tongo. Once on the ground, the French Special Forces began to evacuate the Green Beret joint force along with the dead and wounded, yet in the chaos of the fighting were unable to locate Johnson and were forced to leave without him, Johnson was then reported as missing in action.
Sgt. Johnson’s body would be found 48 hours later in a remote area near the village of Tongo Tongo, it is still unknown if Johnson died from injuries sustained during the attack or was taken prisoner and sadly killed later by his captures.
The French also sent two Mirage 2000 fighter jets to the area of where the Green Berets were under siege to provide close air support, only to be unable to provide air cover due to “terrain concerns and constraints.” The constraints that the French warplanes met were that of the Nigerien government’s refusal to authorize airstrikes inside its own borders, which may also be the reason why the Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) Predator drone assets in the region may have not been armed with Hellfire missiles and therefore were unable to provide close air support to the Green Beret team on the ground.
The arrest of several persons of interest in the village of Tongo Tongo is a very positive step in the right direction for both the United States and the Nigerien governments’ investigations into what really happened in Niger and who is ultimately responsible for the deaths of both U.S. and Nigerien soldiers. The United States along with the Green Berets of the U.S. Army Special Forces will mourn their losses in this tragic event. Yet, will most assuredly return in force to punish those that perpetuated this heinous act against their U.S. and Nigerien brothers in arms.
“Even hyenas get lucky in the killing of a lion.”
Feature image courtesy of: DVIDS