In the aftermath of the deadly ambush that killed four American soldiers near Tongo Tongo, Niger, we outlined the context and background of U.S. Special Forces in Africa and specifically in Niger, examined what happened during the ambush to the best of our ability, and detailed the attempted rescue mission to repatriate La David Johnson. With new information released by the Department of Defense based upon their 6,000-page investigation into the ambush we now know much more and can examine this firefight in far greater detail.

First, it must be noted that the following analysis has the benefit of hindsight, a massive DOD investigation, and other previous reporting on what happened in Niger on October 4th, 2017. ODA 3212 was on the ground that day and had to make difficult decisions under fire based on what information they had on hand at that moment. Today, we have the luxury of looking at the situation from 20,000 feet while examining all available data. This article bases its commentary around the following video while making additional observations.

From the onset it is worth noting how much of AFRICOM and SOCAFRICA‘s command structure is actually based in Germany rather than on the African continent. Would it make a difference if these structures were located in Africa? Perhaps not, but this demonstrates how far removed they are from the cultures and battlefields that these commands preside over are as they are not even in the same theater of operation.

The Pentagon’s narrative of events holds that ODA 3212 essentially went rogue by submitting a false Concept of Operation (CONOP) form to headquarters for a Key Leader Engagement (KLE) when they actually intended to conduct a Direct Action (DA) raid against a terrorist leader. The fact that the ODA was ambushed after this mission failed to materialize and that the team was ordered to examine an abandoned village where the militant leader was thought to be located by their headquarters renders the Pentagon’s “rogue” team narrative as being the reason for the ambush null and void.

Even if the CONOP submitted did not sufficiently detail the ODA’s planned activities, the team was ambushed while doing what they were directed to do by their higher headquarters, not because they were freelancing or coloring outside the lines. The Pentagon has attempted to link the CONOP to the ambush so that they can defer all responsibility to the low-ranking soldiers on the ground.

When conducting this operation, the ODA and other American personnel on the mission rolled out in light skinned four-wheel drive pickup trucks, rather than heavy up-armored humvees or MRAPs that soldiers typically drive in Iraq or Afghanistan. The reason for this is because of the terrain and sandy ground in Niger. Heavy armored vehicles will sink into the dirt and become immobilized. The ODA was also lightly armed, with only M240 machine guns for support weapons mounted on their trucks. In retrospect, the M2HB .50 caliber machine gun would have been better suited for this mission due to the longer range, greater killing power, and the intimidating effect that it has on the enemy — 60mm mortar systems also could have made a difference in the ensuing firefight.

A virtual recreation of the ambush was presented by DOD to congress and later to the media. This shot shows the convoy’s initial order of movement. American vehicles are blue and Nigerien vehicles are green. | DOD

After failing to locate the High Value Target, ODA 3212 began returning to base but stopped in the village of Tongo Tongo so that their partner force could eat breakfast and recuperate. The ODA used the opportunity to meet with village elders (7:00 mark on the video) while they waited to build some rapport. Around 11:30 in the morning, ODA 3212 and their Nigerien partner force departed Tongo Tongo and soon received small arms fire from the village, which was now behind them. It was not a well-planned coordinated ambush in which the convoy was trapped inside a killzone. The convoy stopped as enemy fighters maneuvered through the wood line and opened fire on them. The ODA reported enemy contact up to their Advanced Operating Base (AOB).