Mon | Dec 18, 2017

Top US general: Families, Americans deserve answers on Niger

Published:Tuesday | October 24, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford speaks to reporters about the Niger operation during a briefing at the Pentagon, Monday, Oct. 23, 2017.

WASHINGTON (AP):

The American people and the fallen soldiers' families deserve answers about a deadly ambush in the African nation of Niger, the top US general said yesterday, without being able to provide many himself.

Three weeks after the attack by presumed Islamic State forces, Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford, the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, said several matters must still be resolved. They include whether the US had adequate intelligence and equipment for its operation, whether there was a planning failure, and why it took so long to recover one of the bodies.

Dunford said the four US soldiers died after a battle that started on October 4 in a "complex situation," leading to a "difficult firefight". At a Pentagon news conference, he tried to outline what the military knows.

He said a group of 12 American forces accompanied 30 Nigerien forces to an area about 85 kilometres north of the capital on October 3.

When they sought the next day to return, they encountered about 50 enemy fighters traveling by vehicle, carrying small arms and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. Within an hour of taking fire, the team requested support. Within another hour, a remote plane flew above. Later, French jets arrived and ferried wounded Americans to safety.

The bodies of three American killed in the fighting were transported out of the battle scene, but one Sgt La David Johnson - wasn't recovered until October 6.

Independent of the military's investigation, Johnson's ordeal has become a major political dispute in the United States after President Donald Trump credited himself with doing more to honour the dead and console families than any of his predecessors.

Then, Johnson's aunt said, Trump showed "disrespect" to his family as he telephoned to extend condolences.

In an extraordinary White House briefing, John Kelly, the former Marine general who is Trump's chief of staff, shot back at Trump's critics, and the president continued the criticism over the weekend.

Members of Congress are demanding answers almost three weeks after the ambush in a remote corner of Niger, where few Americans travel.

Last week, Senator John McCain, the Republican chairman of the Armed Services Committee, even threatened a subpoena to accelerate the flow of information from the administration.