The Pentagon has shared more details about the deadly Oct. 4 ambush in Niger that killed four American and five Nigerian soldiers, although questions surrounding the death of one soldier, Sgt. La David Johnson, remain.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph F. Dunford Jr. told reporters during a press conference that members of a U.S.-Nigerien patrol were conducting a routine reconnaissance mission and were on their way back to their base when the troops were ambushed by about 50 ISIS-affiliated fighters, the Washington Post reports.
But it took the troops nearly an hour to call for help, according to the Pentagon. Once they did, an Army drone was immediately deployed and took aerial pictures of the attack. One hour later, French fighter jets reached the American and Nigerien troops—but by then, the firefight was already over.
The Pentagon is currently investigating whether villagers in the Niger-Mali border town the troopers were patrolling may have set up the soldiers. Dunford said that the Pentagon is also investigating whether the U.S. Special Forces team altered their mission, whether they had the means to call for help and how Johnson wound up being separated from the group.
Johnson’s body was not recovered until two days after the attack. Little is known about the condition of the body when it was found.
Various media outlets had covered the attack—the deadliest assault against American soldiers overseas under Donald Trump’s tenure—forcing the president to address it during an impromptu press conference on the White House lawn last week. But it wasn’t until Trump lied about his condolence calls to Gold Star families (he claimed that previous presidents, including Barack Obama, had not done this) and insulted Johnson’s widow, Myeshia Johnson, that the story began to dominate the news cycle.
According to the Post, Dunford struck a “markedly different tone” from either Trump or his chief of staff, John Kelly, in addressing the government’s responsibility to the soldiers killed in the Niger attack:
The Pentagon, he said, owes the families of the four slain soldiers — in addition to Johnson, Staff Sgt. Bryan Black, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson and Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright also were killed — “as much information as we find out about what happened.”
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff also responded to Myeshia Johnson’s claim that she was not allowed to view her husband’s remains.
“They won’t show me a finger, a hand—I know my husband’s body from head to toe, and they won’t let me see anything,” the Gold Star widow told ABC’s Good Morning America on Monday. “I don’t know what’s in that box; it could be empty for all I know. But I need to see my husband.”
According to the Post, while a casualty-assistance officer can and does recommend that remains not be viewed, U.S. military policy dictates that the final decision to view the body is the family’s. Dunford said that he doesn’t know what happened in Johnson’s case, but the Pentagon “will certainly find out.” He also pledged to share more information about U.S. troops’ mission on the African continent. Currently, about 6,000 troops are serving throughout Africa.
Read more at the Washington Post.