Thu | Nov 15, 2018

US soldier ambushed in Niger wasn't captured

Published:Monday | December 18, 2017 | 12:00 AM
FILE - This file photo provided by the U.S. Army Special Operations Command shows Sgt. La David Johnson, who was killed in an October 4 ambush in Niger.


An American soldier killed in an ambush in Niger with three comrades but whose body was recovered days later, wasn't captured alive by the enemy or executed at close range, The Associated Press has learned, based on the conclusion of a military investigation. It found evidence he apparently fought to the end.

Dispelling a swirl of rumours about how Sgt La David T. Johnson, 25, of Miami Gardens, Florida, died, the report has determined that he was killed by enemy rifle and machine gun fire as he fled the attack by an offshoot of the Islamic State group about 120 miles (200 kilometres) north of Niamey, the capital of the African country. The attack took place October 4; Johnson's body was recovered two days later.

US officials familiar with the findings spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity to describe details of an investigation that has not been finalised or publicly released.

A 12-member Army Special Forces unit was accompanying 30 Nigerien forces when they were attacked in a densely wooded area by as many as 50 militants travelling by vehicle and carrying small arms and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

The officials familiar with the investigation said Johnson was hit as many as 18 times from a distance by a volley of machine gun rounds, and that he was returning fire as he and two Nigerien soldiers tried to escape.

All told, four US soldiers and four Nigerien troops were killed in the ambush. Two US and eight Nigerien troops were wounded.

The bodies of three US Green Berets were located on the day of the attack, but not Johnson's remains. The gap in time led to questions about whether Johnson was killed in the assault and not found, or if he was taken away by the enemy.

According to the officials, a medical examination concluded that Johnson was hit by fire from M-4 rifles - probably stolen by the insurgents - and Soviet-made heavy machine guns. It is believed he died in the attack.

The officials said Johnson was found under thick scrub brush where he tried to take cover. There were no indications he was shot at close range, or had been bound or taken prisoner, as several media reports have suggested.