Nearly five months since four U.S. soldiers lost their lives in Niger, the U.S. military is turning its hunt for the perpetrators in the neighboring nation of Mali.
On Oct. 4, 2017, U.S. and Nigerian forces were ambushed by militants affiliated with the Islamic State, resulting in the deaths of four U.S. soldiers and five Nigerian soldiers, and leaving two other U.S. soldiers wounded. The body of one of the soldiers, Sgt. La David Johnson, was found about a mile from the other bodies, and it is assumed that the militants captured and then executed him. Despite being outgunned and low on ammunition, the U.S. and Nigerian forces killed 20 of the enemy militants.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has publicly condemned the “intelligence failure” that led to the U.S. troops being caught off guard. CNN reports that “Several officials say although no final decision has been made, it is possible some personnel may receive administrative punishments for not precisely following the rules when the mission was carried out.”
Before the ambush, the mission was considered to be a part of routine reconnaissance. However, during the mission, the soldiers were ordered to change their route to assist another team with investigating what intelligence officials believed was the former camp of a terrorist. The terrorist who formerly occupied the camp was believed to have moved from Niger into Mali.
The U.S. special forces were in Niger to assist in training local soldiers. A National Geographic video released on Feb. 26 shows the soldiers back at their base camp in the hours leading up to their fateful mission, talking about their lives and working with local forces.
According to CNN, there would be “significant challenges” even if the militants are located in Mali.
“[A]long the Niger-Mali border, the U.S. would need reconnaissance and intelligence assets — most likely drones to track them closely until they could be targeted either by aircraft or ground troops,” the CNN report said. The U.S. could be helped in this endeavor by the French, who “have thousands of troops in Mali,” CNN reported.