In an act of proper leadership, Secretary of Defence James Mattis has decided to exonerate the Special Forces Captain who led the botched Niger operation that resulted in the deaths of four Americans last year, and to instead hold accountable the senior leadership. Reports indicate that Colonel Brad Moses and Lieutenant Colonel David Painter, respectively commanders of the 3rd Special Forces Group and of the 2nd Battalion at the time of the ambush, are facing punishment.

The initial after-action report (AAR) of the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) portrayed Army Captain Michael Perozeni, ODA 3212’s team leader, who was wounded during the ambush, as one of those responsible for the botched operation in the Tongo Tongo, Niger. More specifically, the report criticised the ODA’s leadership for providing insufficient training to their Nigerien partner force and for not conducting enough battle drills. Moreover, they also accused them of providing a false mission plan: instead of stating that they would be conducting a Direct Action (DA) mission against a local terrorist leader, they stated that they would be meeting with local elders.

Consequently, he and his team sergeant were issued with letters of reprimand — the Army handed out six letters in total. Reprimanded alongside CPT Perozeni and his Team Sergeant were the commanding officer, a Chief Warrant Officer, and the Sergeant Major of A Company, Second Battalion 3rd, Special Forces Group, to which ODA 3212 belonged. Crucially, however, the senior officers who approved and oversaw the mission weren’t disciplined in any way.  The only senior officer to be reprimanded was Major General Marcus Hicks, USAF, who was the chief of the U.S. Africa Special Operations Command (SOCAFRICA), who, however, was retiring anyway.

In the military, a letter of reprimand is a career-ender, even if it isn’t followed by additional disciplinary measures — it has to be permanent, however. Officers and enlisted men with such a stain on the record are passed over for promotion.

The Department of Defence (DoD) hasn’t finalised its investigation on the botched mission. Portions of the ongoing Pentagon investigation, that were released in May, highlighted numerous operational and strategic issues before and after the mission. The team, for example, was under-equipped and poorly supported.

The ambush resulted in the death of four Americans. Three of them were Green Berets and another an attachment to the ODA. Despite their numerical inferiority, the ODA managed to kill 21 Islamic State fighters. Three men from the A-Team have been recommended for the Distinguished Service Cross and five for the Silver Star, respectively the second and third highest military awards for bravery.

Special Forces Operational Detachment Alphas (ODAs) are comprised of 12 operators. They can act independently, behind enemy lines, with little to no supervision. Among others, they specialise in Foreign Internal Defence (FID) — essentially, working through, with, and by a local partner force, such as the Nigeriens. The A-team that was ambushed in Niger was advising and training a Nigerien counterterrorism unit. They had been mentoring that specific unit for less than a month before the ambush.

A West African country, Niger is a hotbed of terrorist activity. Islamic State-affiliated groups have been working against the Nigerien government. And Niger isn’t the only country in the region to face such problems. Mali was almost taken by terrorists until a French military intervention repelled them. Nigeria is still having trouble with the Boko Haram terrorist group. Western troops in the area have been supporting the local governments with training, intelligence, and DA missions. It is important to note that borders in these nations don’t have the normal definition: people come and go as they please without any regard to transnational boundaries.