The ambush in Niger earlier this month that left four United States Green Berets dead has been the subject of immense speculation, not only concerning Trump’s public response to the tragedy but also about what actually happened in Niger on that fateful day.
Fox News on Capitol Hill asked if the administration has been forthcoming about the attack, Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., replied, “of course not” and added, “it may require a subpoena.”
Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said Thursday that the attack is currently under investigation.
While details are elusive, Fox News has compiled a timeline of the ambush and its aftermath, which all started with a routine mission to meet village elders:
A dozen U.S. Army soldiers, mostly Green Berets, along with 30 Nigerians, traveled 125 miles north of Niger’s capital, Niamey, in unarmored trucks on a routine mission and to meet with local village elders in Tonga Tonga, near the border with Mali, on Oct. 4.
After the meeting with the village elders ended around 12 p.m. local time, the U.S.-led patrol was ambushed by roughly 50 militants from a new ISIS-affiliated group, Islamic State of the Sahel. No terrorist group has claimed responsibility for the attack, however, and a leading terrorist group in the region, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, has not been ruled out.
Islamic State of the Sahel’s leader, Adnan Abu Walid, is thought to have been holding an American aid worker from Niger hostage for a year.
A senior defense official told Fox News the U.S. troops were fired on once they were already in their vehicles. The vehicles then scrambled to “get off the X” — escaping the ambush site using evasive driving maneuvers. They were ambushed just outside the village.
At about 5 p.m. ET the Pentagon alerted the White House that U.S. troops had been attacked in Niger. Two hours later, U.S. Africa Command confirmed in a statement “that a joint U.S. and Nigerien patrol came under hostile fire in southwest Niger. We are working to confirm details on the incident and will have more information as soon as we can confirm facts on the ground.”
Two U.S. Army Green Berets and one soldier were known to be killed and two other Green Berets wounded. Another U.S. Army soldier attached to 3rd Special Forces Group, Sgt. La David Johnson, vanished — and it was feared he had been taken hostage by the terrorist group — until his body was discovered roughly 48 hours later, after an “intensive” search using both drones and U.S. special operations soldiers on the ground, a U.S. official debriefed on the incident told Fox News.
At the time of the attack, the Pentagon asked Fox News not to report a U.S. soldier was missing because U.S. special operations forces were headed to Niger for a possible rescue mission.
Special Operators were rushed to the scene as soon as it was known that a soldier was missing.
There was no U.S. drone overhead when the joint U.S.-Nigerian patrol was attacked because the patrol did not anticipate making contact with an enemy force.
“The patrol that was attacked last week had actually done 29 patrols without contact over the previous six months or so; no indication that this was going to occur. I would say that what was actually very positive about it was the fact that they were able to have close-air support overhead, about 30 minutes after first contact, which is pretty impressive,” the Director of the Pentagon’s Joint Staff, Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., told reporters Oct. 12.
Two French Mirage fighter jets showed up overhead during the attack, but did not open fire on the militants. The jets, however, flew low enough to scatter the group. The government of Niger does not allow armed drone flights overhead, despite the U.S. military operating two drone bases and roughly 800 American troops in the land-locked West African nation, which is about twice the size of Texas in area.
Two French Gazelle helicopters arrived a short time after enemy forces scattered and one of them retrieved two wounded Green Berets and flew them back to the capital for treatment.
A short time later, a private U.S. contracted helicopter recovered the bodies of the three Green Berets killed in the attack, a U.S. official told Fox News. U.S. Africa Command confirmed the detail.
“Berry Aviation was on alert during the incident in Niger and conducted casualty evacuation and transport for U.S. and partner forces,” said Robyn Mack, a spokesperson.
Why are troops in Niger?
For several years, American and French troops have provided trainings and support to the militaries of Niger and other vulnerable African countries where Islamic extremism has grown.
The White House has been widely criticized for its response to the attack – especially in the delay in acknowledging the ambush. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said earlier this week that the delay in the public acknowledgment of the attack was due to a “process that is standard protocol.”
Trump was also criticized for his public feud with a Democratic congresswoman and Sgt. La David Johnson’s widow. Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., accused Trump of making “insensitive” remarks to Myeshia Johnson.
Trump has denied Wilson’s allegations, but the mother of the deceased soldier has backed up Wilson’s claims.
Because of the White House’s response to the attack, it’s been called “the president’s Benghazi” by some Democrats, referencing the contentious attack in 2012 that left four Americans service members dead.