Broken Arrow: Department of Defense still inconsistent with findings on ambush in Niger

The Department of Defense has released an eight page summary of its over 6,000 page classified investigation into the events that led up to the ambush and killing of four U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers near the village of Tongo Tongo, Niger on October 4th 2017. The report, then press briefing later the same day, outlined several operational failures by the Green Berets of Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) 3212.

General Thomas D. Waldhauser, the commander of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) stated in the press brief that no one blaring factor contributed to the loss of four U.S. soldiers. Yet, reiterated that ODA 3212 inconsistencies in their mission approval and their faulty regional threat assessment was heavily weighed into the investigation.

However sources within U.S Army Special Forces with direct knowledge informed The Fusion Cell that the DOD is intentionally misleading the public with abject falsehoods and is placing the blame entirely onto the Green Beret team and leadership.

The summary outlines that ODA 3212 along with their Nigerien counter-parts were tasked to conduct what is being reported as a “soft reconnaissance” of a suspected Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISIS-GS) camp near the village of Tiloa to ascertain whether a key member of the terror group along with his fighters may have used the encampment.

According to sources and what has been reported by family members who received the briefing earlier this month, the team was expecting almost no ISIS-GS presence and the team was being used as a possible quick reaction force (QRF) for another “special operations team” in what AFRICOM Chief of Staff, Maj. Gen. Roger Cloutier Jr called, “Team Arlit.”

ODA 3212 found no indications of ISIS-GS presence in Tiloa in what the team described as “a dry hole” and reported this to the Advanced Operations Base (AOB) commander. Yet, Team Arlit along with its own Nigerien force were tasked to conduct a direct action kill/capture mission on a camp not far from ODA 3212 which was also tasked with the additional duty of QRF for Team Arlit in case their mission encountered heavy resistance.

Team Arlits target was a high value target (HVT) that was ISIS-GS’s suspected second-in-command, Doundou Cheffou, who was code-named “Naylor Road” by AFRICOM. Due to strong headwinds in Arlit the special operations assault force had to abandon the mission.

It was then decided by ODA 3212’s battalion commander that the Green Beret team be re-tasked to cover down on the Team Arlit mission. This was met with concerns by both the Green Beret commander along with his Nigerien counter-part due to the team not being fully equipped for a direct combat action mission. Both commanders were overruled by the U.S. higher command and set out to conduct Team Arlit’s mission

This is where the DoD briefing begins to show inconsistencies sources told The Fusion Cell, especially in regards to the reported faulty concept of operations report (CONOP) that AFRICOM indicates was never approved by higher command and that ODA 3212 and its AOB inaccurately characterized the threat on the ground.

“The mis-characterization of the CONOP in this investigation is a cop out [by DoD] because that CONOP had nothing to do with OBJ North mission, which put the team eventually in the spot of the ambush.” said the source with direct knowledge of the mission in Niger.

The source went on the clarify that the original CONOP that was sent up and approved only dealt with the reconnaissance mission in Tiloa, and not the Team Arlit kill/capture mission at a nearby suspect military outpost of the ISIS-GS that the battalion commander ordered ODA 3212 to be re-tasked to conduct.

The new CONOP was then “copy and pasted” more than likely from Team Arlit by the AOB commander and was either approved at that level or at the battalion commanders level, and ODA 3212 with its Nigerien force set out to the suspect ISIS-GS encampment.

This type of “copy/paste” is nothing new to special operations missions and has been a practice well known to major component commands since the early days of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Most of what was copy pasted over to the CONOP was most likely information that usually never changes, such as terrain, locations of friendly forces, deconfliction frequencies for other foreign military units, and medical evacuation sites.

According to the source a drone overhead saw no indications that the camp had anyone in it or near the site. With this information the team entered the camp and began conducting what is known as sensitive site exploitation (SSE) to look for intelligence or clues that could lead to the whereabouts and capture of Naylor Road.

After destroying a motorcycle the team’s convoy headed out towards the village of Tongo Tongo as the Nigerien commander wanted to resupply water and food at what was reported as being a friendly village. ODA 3212 passed this information to the AOB and it was suggested that the team conduct a key leader engagement (KLE) or a meeting with the villager elders to determine if the village was sympathetic to the ISIS-GS and that if Naylor Road would be welcomed in the village if he chose to stop there.

The drone that was overhead stayed above the suspected ISIS-GS campsite to monitor the site to see if any fighters might return after the team left, and the team set out towards Tongo Tongo with no ISR coverage.

The ODA spent nearly a hour in the village then eventually saddled up the convoy and headed out and as soon as they were clear of Tongo Tongo were immediately ambushed by a sizable insurgent force that began to envelope the team. With no prior battle drills having been conducted with the Nigerien counter-parts the host nation forces followed what was the standard operating procedures (SOP) of the previous team and immediately took off out of the kill zone. Effectively splitting the convoy and the team of Green Berets.

“The enemy had never before been seen in taht size or with that kind of firepower.” the source reported, “ISR had no indicators at all that they reported.” When asked if the team might have been followed or under observation from enemy forces the source replied, “I think they were observed the minute they left their base [in Ouallam]. But decision to ambush the team was not made until they started approaching Ouallam,where there was only one route.”

General Waldhauser was adament that the Green Beret team fought valiantly and many act of courage were displayed by the team to include the fallen. He said in the press briefing that, “the responsibility is ultimately mine.” Yet, then seemed to back pedal that statement later by stating, “I am responsible for all operations within Africa, having said that, we have component commands and commanders who are responsible to oversee these missions namely Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and the U.S. Army.”

The investigation outlined failures within the 3rd Group command as well, reporting that pre-mission readiness and preparation stateside did not happen with ODA 3212. It also indicated that the team failed to focus its mission training on its tasking for Niger. The team also did not liaise with the outgoing Green Beret team in Niger, nor establish a training schedule or its own SOP’s with its Nigerien counterparts.

According to the report findings, ODA 3212 was a very junior team with newly graduated Green Berets filling the ranks of the team after more senior Green Berets were reassigned either to different ODA’s or put into instructor roles within the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School (JFKSWCS) at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina.

Most within the U.S. Army Special Forces community agree that these failures should have never happened and that team should have been held accountable by its respective commands had they not conducted its stateside training.

Yet, why did the 3rd Group commander allow this team to deploy if it did not meet or exceed its pre-deployment preparations and is this an isolated incident or a systemic one. Secretary of Defense James Mattis along with the Department of Defense is giving SOCOM and the U.S. Army command 120 days to determine just that.

However, who will be held responsible and will punishment be handed out to those in command responsible. Sources within the Green Beret community already believe that the only ones that will be “thrown under the bus” will be the members of ODA 3212 and its junior leadership. Many active and former commandos within the Green Berets are already seeing the writing on the wall and many are appalled by what they call yet another example of general officers and the Pentagon’s “cover ‘my’ ass” narrative that quite literally throws the operators on the ground under the bus to protect their own careers.

“Typical of GO’s [General Officers]” said one Green Beret who asked to remain anonymous; “It’s their general order number 1, they say ‘Hey, I told them not to!” And this eight page summary report, and the subsequent press briefing, has all the indications that this is exactly what is about to occur. And why wouldn’t it, the same generals that conducted this investigation command the very same command being investigated.


Feature image courtesy of: YouTube