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Body of US soldier killed in Niger bound, likely executed: Report

Undated official army photo released by the US Department of Defense shows Sgt. La David T. Johnson, 25, of Miami Gardens, Florida, who was killed on October 4, 2017 in southwest Niger. (Photo by AFP)

The body of one of four US Special Forces troops killed during an ambush by suspected militants in Niger last month was found with his arms tied and a huge wound at the back of his head, two local witnesses have said, suggesting that he may have been executed after being captured.

Adamou Boubacar, a 23-year-old farmer and trader, said some children tending cattle found the remains of the soldier, identified as Sgt. La David Johnson, on October 6, two days after the attack outside the remote Niger village of Tongo Tongo, which also left five Nigerien soldiers dead, US daily The Washington Post reported Saturday.

The accounts offered by the villagers come as the Niger operation is under intense scrutiny in the United States, with lawmakers expressing concerns that they have received insufficient or conflicting information about what happened.

According to the report, the Pentagon is conducting an investigation into the attack in Niger, where the US military is helping the Nigerien government confront a threat by militants suspected of being affiliated with the Daesh terrorist group and al-Qaeda.

A US military official with knowledge of the probe into the ambush admitted that Johnson’s body appeared viciously battered but cautioned against reaching any conclusions until the probe is completed.

“When the Americans received Johnson, his hands were not tied,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter.

The accounts, the report adds, could help explain why it took two days to find Johnson’s body, while the other men’s remains were retrieved several hours after the battle.

Johnson’s widow has stated that US military authorities advised her not to view his corpse, a suggestion often made when remains are badly disfigured.

The widow, Myeshia Johnson, has emerged as a prominent figure in the uproar over the Niger attack, accusing US President Donald Trump of acting cavalierly about her husband in a condolence call, a charge the White House has denied. She also has complained of receiving little information about what happened to her spouse.

Meanwhile, FBI and US military investigators have arrived in Niger to try to determine what happened in the October 4 assault on an 11-member Army Special Forces team and 30 Nigerien troops.

The case has received enormous attention in the United States because of conflicting accounts over whether the soldiers were on a low-risk patrol or had changed plans and set out in pursuit of local insurgents. Questions also have been raised about why the team was lightly armed, given the danger in the area.

Pentagon officials have said the soldiers were on a routine reconnaissance mission. Under US military rules, American troops in Niger are not supposed to go on combat missions in the country, but they can “advise and assist” on missions with local forces where the chance of enemy contact is low.

It was not clear why a team mostly armed with rifles was ordered to assist an operation to nab a dangerous extremist.

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