The 6,000 page Pentagon report on the ambush in which ODA 3212 was caught near Tongo Tongo, Niger, in October of 2017 is now complete; according to the Wall Street Journal, family members have been briefed and now Congressional leaders will be briefed prior to a sanitized version of the report being released to the public. The report indicates exactly what was expected based on SOFREP’s initial reporting of the ambush the day after it occurred: that U.S. military leaders were preparing to place the entire burden of the ambush on non-commissioned officers and junior officers, while the generals and colonels deferred responsibility. The Pentagon’s plan to throw the ODA under the bus and blame risk assessments was underway before the remains of Sgt. La David Johnson had even been recovered.

According to a New York Times story published in March, Secretary Mattis and General Dunford knew that something was amiss with the Niger report early on. The article states:

The two officials said Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, are troubled that low-level officers are being blamed for the botched mission instead of senior commanders who should be aware when American troops are undertaking a high-risk raid.”

At that point, both men must have been aware of what the Pentagon was trying to do by deferring responsibility and placing the entire burden for the ambush on lower ranking soldiers. What corrective measures were taken as the report was being compiled, if any, remains unknown.

What we do know about the Niger report thus far demonstrates just how completely out of touch the Pentagon is with what soldiers on the ground actually experience. The report blames the ambush partly on a culture of risk taking, a culture that is deliberately cultivated in Special Operations soldiers as the Pentagon itself orders Special Forces ODAs to undertake dangerous missions. If the Pentagon’s first priority is mitigating risk, then they should stop sending soldiers into war zones.

Another oblivious comment from the senior officers who penned the report indicates that an officer copy and pasted information from a previously authorized concept of the operation (CONOP) document into the CONOP which was submitted for the October 4th mission in which ODA 3212 was ambushed. Why this surprises anyone defies explanation at this point. Such activities have been happening for years. At this moment, soldiers are no doubt conducting combat operations in which information in their CONOP was cut and pasted from somewhere else. In fact, junior officers are essentially forced to do this due to the amount of mandatory paperwork and bureaucracy that is forced upon them.

After a mission, junior officers have to compile what is known as an Operations Summary (OPSUM) which describes what happened on the mission and includes a storyboard — a collage of pictures taken by the soldiers on the mission to prove to senior officers that they actually did what they said they did, which in and of itself implies to the men that their leadership does not trust them. OPSUMs have to be submitted almost immediately after the team returns to base, sometimes within minutes of arriving back at a Forward Operating Base, tired and exhausted. In this scenario, higher headquarters is literally telling junior officers to lie to them by demanding such quick turn arounds on OPSUM report submissions. The Special Forces Captain is forced to fudge the paperwork because he is being asked to do something that can’t realistically be done and everyone knows it.

The same goes for CONOPs which often have to be compiled quickly and require levels upon levels of approval. Senior leaders actually demand far more information from the ODA than they themselves can ever process. An embarrassing demonstration of this occurred years ago when an ODA member submitted a CONOP in which the enemy was described as “Sand Niggers.” It’s one thing that racial epithets were used on the report, and it was unprofessional and not in line with Army values. However, the deeper lesson was that no one actually reads these reports. This one went all the way up to Central Command (CENTCOM) in Tampa, Florida before anyone caught the racial slur. Another example occurred early on in the war against ISIS when Delta operators submitted a CONOP for them to go outside the wire with their Iraqi counter-parts when this was not an authorized part of their mission. That CONOP went all the way up to the White House before it was caught and the operators were told to stand down.