During a U.S. House Armed Services Committee hearing last Tuesday, Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan told lawmakers the long-awaited Niger ambush report will go through yet another review. The report concerns the botched Niger operation that took place in October 2017 and cost the lives of four Americans.
Justifying his decision, Shanahan said his predecessor, Gen. James Mattis, “convened a review and that recommendation was brought to me. I did not find that sufficient. So, I convened my own review so I can ensure from top to bottom as the appropriate accountability.”
General Mattis reopened the case in December. He exonerated the junior leadership and went after more senior officers at the battalion, regiment, and theater command levels. It is hard to believe, thus, that General Mattis’ review wasn’t aiming at proper accountability in the senior leadership. This new review, therefore, seems to be an attempt to gain time either to allow senior officers to quietly retire or to bury the facts altogether.
“It seems to me that we’re going to place blame on junior officers, and we’re letting colonels and general officers just get off the hook,” said Representative Ruben Gallego, a Democrat from Arizona and a Marine Corps veteran, according to Stars and Stripes. “These families and the American public deserve to know exactly what happened. And the junior officers that are being reprimanded right now should know that there’s gonna be equal reprimands, especially for general officers, should they have done anything wrong.”
“That’s the reason. The fundamental reason that I’ve done this is, for every person between boots on the ground to the most senior position, I want a direct accounting,” said Shanahan in response to Rep. Gallego’s question.
The acting secretary of defense did not provide a timeline for the new review. He emphasized, however, that it will be briefer than what is considered normal.
Initially, the U.S. Africa Command was quick to blame the botched operation on Capt. Michael Perozeni, the team leader of the Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) 3212. The after-action review condemned Captain Perozeni for providing insufficient training to their Nigerian partners and for not conducting enough battle drills before operations. The report also accused the Green Beret officer of providing a false mission plan to his chain of command. Instead of declaring they would be conducting Direct Action missions, he stated that he would be just meeting up with local elders to garner information about the jihadists.
ODAs are composed of 12 operators. They can operate independently behind enemy lines with little to no outside support. They work through, with, and by a local partner force, such as the Nigerians. The ODA that was ambushed in Niger was advising and training a Nigerian counterterrorism unit.