June 03, 2023

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Politics: ‘This was sophisticated’: US official says troops saw warning signs before Niger ambush

  • A senior congressional aide says that a “massive intelligence failure” may have played a role in the Niger ambush that led to the deaths of four US soldiers.
  • The Defense Department is looking into whether the soldiers were being delayed and lured into an ambush, multiple news outlets reported.

The ambush that resulted in the deaths of four US service members in Niger earlier in October has been attributed in part to a “massive intelligence failure,” a senior congressional aide told NBC News.

About 40 to 50 ISIS-affiliated militants reportedly ambushed a 12-person squad of US soldiers, killing three Green Berets and one soldier near the Niger-Mali border. Two others were wounded during the assault.

The operation, meant to establish relations with local leaders, was believed to be low-risk, and was viewed as routine after being conducted about 30 times in recent months.

The aide also said US forces did not have ample overhead surveillance support and no quick-reaction force — an emergency-response team — for the mission. French fighter jets, which reportedly arrived within 30 minutes of the call going out, played a crucial role in the fight, according to the aide.

A diplomat said that French officials were frustrated with the mission, particularly because they had limited intelligence and no contingency plans, Reuters reported.

Although multiple Defense Department offices have launched investigations into the incident, the aide noted that one of the scenarios being looked into was whether the US soldiers were intentionally delayed in the village they were visiting. He said that the soldiers were pursuing men on motorcycles, who lured them into the ambush, according to NBC News. There, they were met with rocket-propelled grenades and improvised vehicles outfitted for combat.

A US Army Special Forces weapons sergeant observes a Niger army soldier during marksmanship training as part of Exercise Flintlock 2017 in Diffa, Niger, February 28, 2017.play

A US Army Special Forces weapons sergeant observes a Niger army soldier during marksmanship training as part of Exercise Flintlock 2017 in Diffa, Niger, February 28, 2017.

(US Army/Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Klutts)

Another report suggested that the soldiers were ambushed while walking back to their unarmored vehicles, after their meeting with the village leaders. One senior US intelligence official said to ABC News that US troops detected something was wrong when they saw two motorcycles race out of the village: “Hair on the back of the neck stood up,” the senior official said.

The soldiers then felt they were being stalled by the village elder, the official continued. When they were finally leaving, the militants attacked from both sides of the road.

“This was sophisticated,” the official said, “Our guys not only got hit hard, but got hit in depth.”

When the dust settled, around 21 militants were killed. The militants were later buried at the Malian side of the border, ABC News reported.

“So while this was a tragedy, what’s gotten lost is how well our people acquitted themselves,” the official continued, “We lost four but at least 21 from their side died.”

On Friday, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said that although he couldn’t give details on the attack, the soldiers had “died in the defense of America.”

“This war is getting hot in places where it’s cool,” Graham said. “The American public needs to get ready for more operations. We’re gonna be more aggressive.”


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