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Probe offers details on how secret US op in Niger went awry

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Robert Karem (L), Commander of US Africa Command General Thomas Waidhauser (C), and Chief of Staff for US Africa Command Major General Roger Cloutier Jr. speak during a press briefing at the Pentagon in Washington, DC, on May 10, 2018. (Photo by AFP)

A Pentagon investigation of a botched US operation in Niger in 2017 has concluded, finding mistakes on all military levels in the secret mission that resulted in the death of four American Special Forces.

The US Defense Department investigation, whose findings were partially released on Thursday, however assigned blame mostly to the junior Special Forces — or the Green Berets — involved in executing the operation.

According to the unclassified summary of the probe and a later media briefing by the Pentagon, the Green Beret unit, known as Operational Detachment-Alpha Team 3212, left their base in Niger’s Ouallam ill-equipped and unprepared for a “mission” near the town of Tiloa on October 4, 2017.

The mission was reportedly to kill or capture a figure affiliated with the Takfiri Daesh terrorist group. A group of 30 Nigerien forces accompanied the 11 Green Berets, who were traveling in an unarmored SUV.

But the mission failed spectacularly when the US and Nigerien forces came under heavy fire from militants in an ambush near the village of Tongo Tongo.

Four US Special Forces were killed. So were at least five Nigeriens.

The Pentagon probe said the American team had not undergone proper training and had not rehearsed the mission in advance. It said the soldiers wounded in the ambush had to wait for a medevac for more than four hours, a period of time far longer than the Pentagon had earlier acknowledged.

While it recounted the mission in careful detail, the investigation report did not recommend specific corrective action.

It was also criticized shortly after release for focusing on the soldiers and not on the higher links in the chain of command. Furthermore, the Army officer who oversaw the probe, Major General Roger L. Cloutier Jr., is himself a senior official in the same command chain, raising concerns of potential bias.

The US conducts surveillance missions and offensive strikes against what it calls radical militant groups in the entire Africa. But when the mission failure in Niger was reported at the time, many Americans were learning for the first time that the US military operated there.

This file photo shows a US Army instructor next to a Malian soldier during an anti-terrorism exercise at the Kamboinse-General Bila Zagre military camp near Ouagadougo in Burkina Faso, in West Africa, on April 12, 2018. (By AFP)

The Nigerien government has been fully cooperating with the US military. Some 800 forces are stationed in Niger, and the US has been building a huge military base from which it plans to operate drones in the region.

The Associated Press back in April cited unnamed US officials as saying that the base project in Niger was the “largest troop labor construction project in US history,” with an estimated cost of more than 110 million dollars.

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