Senators demand answers in deaths of 4 U.S. soldiers in Niger

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., was among Senate Armed Service Committee members angered Tuesday that the Trump administration has offered little information on the October 4 deaths of U.S. soldiers in Niger. File Photo by Erin Schaff/UPI | License Photo

By Ed Adamczyk – UPI

Leading members of Congress say they need answers to an ambush in Niger this month, in which four U.S. soldiers died.

Preliminary findings are expected by the end of the week, but are likely to remain classified.

Several U.S. officials described a surprise firefight between 12 U.S. soldiers and members of what the Pentagon called a self-radicalized group affiliated with the Islamic State. Four elite Green Beret soldiers were killed in gunfire and two were injured, and French air support was required to end it.

The U.S. presence in the landlocked West African nation includes a drone base and about 800 soldiers. Officials said U.S. troops were embedded in a larger unit of Nigerien soldiers when the fighting began. Some reports said the troops were seeking a high-value target in the area, identifying Adam Abu Walid al-Sahraoui, leader of a group calling itself Islamic State in the Greater Sahara.

U.S. Africa Command has ordered a comprehensive investigation into the incident.

On Tuesday, two weeks after the ambush, members of the Senate Armed Services Committee demanded more information. They complained that the administration of President Donald Trump has not been forthcoming in proving information to the committee.

“I had a better working relationship, as far as information back and forth, with [former Pentagon chief] Ash Carter than I do with an old friend of 20 years,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said of Defense Secretary James Mattis. He noted that the statement also included H.R. McMaster, Trump’s national security adviser, adding, “I think they had this idea that once Trump won [the 2016 presidential election] that we are a unicameral government.”

U.S. Africa Command said a timeline of the incident is being established, but questions remain. They include whether U.S. troops were aware that IS-affiliated militants were in the area, why the evacuation required the involvement of French troops and why the body of one U.S. soldier killed, Sgt. La David Johnson, was left behind.

“I think the administration has to be more clear about our role in Niger and our role in other areas in Africa and other parts of the globe,” committee member Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., said. “They have to connect it to a strategy. They should do that. I think that the inattention to this issue is not acceptable.”