The Defense Department found no single cause, but rather “individual, organizational and institutional” errors, including insufficient training and preparation, caused the death of four US soldiers and at least five Nigerien soldiers in a bloody Special Forces mission in Niger, according to an eight-page summary report. The Oct. 4 ambush took the lives of Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson, Staff Sgt. Bryan Black, Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright, and Sgt. La David Johnson. In all, the investigative team interviewed 143 witnesses, reports the Washington Post. It “examined documentary, photographic, audio, video and testimonial evidence," per CNN. One survivor even returned to the battlefield with the team. The patrol was submitted and approved as a low-risk recon assignment, but the team was actually on a high-risk mission searching for Islamic State leader Doundoun Cheffou; their true mission was never approved by the proper chain of command, though the team notes this was a result of "sloppiness" rather than an intent to deceive.
The patrol, which did not rehearse the mission before setting out and was missing key equipment and training, encountered light fire at first but then was engaged by a larger group of militants on motorcycles and in trucks mounted with machine guns. The report found that the arrival of French Mirage planes disrupted the fight and may have saved lives, reports the New York Times. The remains of three of the US soldiers who were killed were retrieved quickly, but the body of La David Johnson was not retrieved until the evening of Oct. 6. The delay in recovering Johnson’s body had led to speculation that he had been taken captive. That speculation was bolstered by locals who said that they saw the body and that Johnson’s hands appeared to be tied behind his back. The report, nevertheless, concluded that his hands were not bound and he was killed in action while “actively engaging the enemy.” The full report remains classified.