General Dunford Gives a Masterful Briefing on Niger but a Lot of Questions Remain

Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, speaks to reporters about the Niger operation during a briefing at the Pentagon, Monday, Oct. 23, 2017. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, speaks to reporters about the Niger operation during a briefing at the Pentagon, Monday, Oct. 23, 2017. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)


Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Joseph Dunford briefed the press on the Niger firefight that resulted in the loss of four American soldiers. A lot of information emerged that changes the entire picture of what happened but a lot of questions remain.

There were 12 US SOF and 30 Nigerien soldier on what had started out as a civil-military reconnaissance mission. The Civil-military part is important because it implies they were interview locals for information in addition to doing the regular recon patrol activities. The mission began in the capital of Niamey with its destination being the village of Tongo Tongo

The patrol reached Tongo Tongo on October 3. On October 4 they started the return leg. The intelligence assessment was that contact with the enemy was unlikely.

On mid-morning of October 4 the patrol made contact:

The patrol came under attack from approximately fifty enemy using small arms fire, rocket propelled grenades, and technical vehicles.

Dunford hits the beginning of the action twice, first at 3:23 and again at 3:52 (full video is at the end of the post). Dunford says “take fire.” He does not utter the word ambush. This is a significant deviation from the media narrative which has, in at least one account, the unit being ambushed inside a village. What seems to have happened is that the patrol took fire at some distance, quite possibly as the outcome of a meeting engagement.


The recon unit was under fire for about an hour before requesting support. This construction is sort of nebulous to me as SOP for any unit is that you report contact NOW!!! Did the team report the contact, if so, what actions were taken by higher headquarters because any operations officer worth his salt always assumes the very worst is going to happen. Or does Dunford mean that the team was in contact for an hour before it came up on the net and said, “we’re in contact and we could use some help.” This is not clear to me.

When they requested assistance Dunfords says, “within minutes a remotely piloted aircraft arrived overhead.”

Within an hour after requesting assistance, French Mirage fighters arrived on station. Later that afternoon French attack helicopters arrived on station and after that an Nigerien quick reaction force arrived. I’m assuming all of these came from near Niamey which was less than 85km. During the firefight two US soldiers were wounded and evacuated by French air assets. So we can put to bed the whole “contractor” issue. Three US KIA were evacuated on the evening of October 4. Sergeant La David Johnson was determined to be MIA at that point. French, US, and/or Nigerien forces were in the area from initial contact until Johnson’s body was found on October 6. So he wasn’t “left behind.”


This is some stray video via Twitter

One interesting point comes up when Dunford is enumerating a list of “fair questions” (starts at 5:05). “Did the mission of US forces change during the operation?” Looking at the timeline, one could guess that the US-Nigerien convoy took fire. A decision was made to transition from a recon patrol to a combat patrol. One of the things you are doing as a trainer it teaching troops how to respond in combat. There is no better way to assess the level of training than in combat. The matchup is about 50 Malian ISIS fighters and about 42 friendlies. I’d have made the same decision. Assuming that to be the case, the patrol probably dismounted and maneuvered against the enemy. About an hour into the fight, one or more Americans are killed or injured and the unit calls for assistance.


Another curious point. No one has mentioned Nigerien casualties. Did they not have any? Or is everyone so obsessed with making this Benghazi that no one cares? The different answers have different implications for what happened.

Watch some of the briefing. Dunford is very impressive.


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