MORTUS DISCRIMINATUS: THE BREAKDOWN OF THE AMBUSH OF GREEN BERETS IN NIGER

[Originally appeared on The Fusion Cell May 20 2018]

The Department of Defense released an eight page summary 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 was supplemented with a re-enactment video to further describe the events that transpired during that fateful day, as well as reporting the acts of valor and heroism the Green Berets of ODA 3212 displayed.

Task & Purpose will attempt to walk you through this hellish ambush as it went down.

[1135HRS 0:00 – 0:36]

The joint U.S. and Nigerien convoy departed from the village of Tongo Tongo at 1135hrs and began their trek south on the sole dirt road leading away from the village. Two of the five light-skinned vehicles belonging to the Nigerien Bataillon Sécurité et Renseignement (BSR) commandos led the convoy out with three trucks of ODA 3212 interspersed throughout, with the Green Beret team sergeant’s vehicle pulling up the rear.

within 100 meters, or about 320 feet outside of the village, the rear of convoy began to receive ineffective light small arms fire from what was reportedly coming from the village. Heavier gun fire than came from a wooded area to their east as they continued away from the sporatic gun-fire from the north.

At this point the convoy stopped, the rear vehicle of the team sergeant along with U.S. Vehicle 1 began returning fire with belt fed M240 machine guns while the entire joint U.S. and Nigerien force dismounted their vehicles to prepare for a counter attack. The joint force still considering the ambush to be small enemy force hidden within a wooded area to their northeast, decided to assemble a team of Nigeriens led by the Green Beret team commander in a flanking maneuver to the southeast to collapse onto the enemy fighters positions and destroy them.

The team sergeant  moved his U.S. Vehicle 3 to the center of the convoy to coordinate machine gun fires with U.S. Vehicle 1, who had the only other heavy machine gun of the convoy, and sent up to the Advanced Operations Base (AOB) that they were in what is known as a TIC, or troops in contact — an acronym for a gun fight.

During this SSG Jeremiah Johnson left U.S. Vehicle 3 and joined with SSG Bryan Black and SSG Dustin Wright. During Johnson’s dash to the U.S. vehicle, the Nigerien vehicle in the back of the convoy departed attempting to get out of the “kill-box,” the three U.S. Special Forces soldiers, armed only with small-arms themselves, were now the last U.S. vehicle in the convoy and directly within the kill-zone of the ambush.

[vid 1:22 –  1:44]

The Green Beret commanders flanking element continued to the north through the wooded area where the ambush was suspected of being, when they were held up by a marshy body of water. As the small counter ambush team began engaging the enemy forces to the north, the captain saw a massive enemy assault force of motorcycles and pickup trucks–known as ‘technicals’  loaded with fighters and mounted heavy machine guns bearing down on the incredibly smaller joint U.S. and Nigerien convoy.

[1:58 – 2:20]

Realizing they were all about to be out-gunned, the small team immediately ran back towards the convoy and ordered the entire force to get in their vehicles and head south to get away from the assault heading their way. They were slow to leave however, as it took some time to corral the Nigerien commandos who now were spread out all across the ambush site.

The Nigerien vehicles at the lead of the convoy immediately left as the Americans were gathering the additional forces. This is when the last vehicle of Black, Johnson, and Wright came under even more intense firepower.

Johnson gave a “thumbs up” to the order to get out of the kill-box and a smoke grenade was thrown to obscure their movements, directly after the smoke grenade was tossed U.S. Vehicle 1 and 3 headed out thinking the remaining U.S. truck was right behind them.

[2:39 – 2:56]

Wright then began to slowly drive U.S. Vehicle 2 as Black and Johnson walked along side attempting to provide covering fire with their M-4 combat rifles for the fleeing convoy as their truck did not have a mounted heavy machine gun.

Intense withering enemy fire was now focused solely onto U.S. Vehicle 2, during which Black would be fatally hit and fall to the ground.

[3:15 -3:33]

Wright stopped the truck and exited under heavy enemy fire and drug Johnson’s body behind the truck to assess his wounds. With the vehicle now taking a mass amount of fire, it was impossible for both Wright and Johnson to re-enter the truck. They had no cover other than a small scrub brush out-cropping to sheild them from the veritable wall of lead descending onto their position.

Both Wright and Johnson made the decision to make a run to the southwest where the convoy reported they had stopped after realizing the trail vehicle was not with them. Jeremiah Johnson was then shot and fell, mortally wounded, just 200 feet from the bullet riddled U.S. Vehicle 2. Dustin Wright stopped and attempted to drag Johnson to what little cover was around and was then also fatally shot.

SSG Bryan Black, SSH Jeremiah Johnson, and SSG Dustin Wright were killed at 1200hrs.

[3:35 -3:58]

2000 feet to the south the convoy halted to form a defensive position and to re-consolidate with the lost U.S. trail vehicle, at this time they were unaware of the three fallen soldiers fate.

[4:25 – 4:40]

As their defensive position began to come under heavy fire from enemy fighters and their technicals, two Green Berets made a mad dash to the north to collect the trail vehicle of Black, Johnson, and Wright.

[4:49 – 4:59]

During this, Sgt LaDavid Johnson jumped into the back of U.S. Vehicle 3 and began returning fire, laying down a heavy volume of bullets with the mounted M240 machine gun on the advancing enemy fighters. Johnson then depleted the ammunition of the M240 and switched to a sniper rifle and began taking precision shots towards enemy fighters.

During this fight two more Green Berets ran towards the original ambush site to where they thought the others had gone, the other Green Berets were in a heavy gunfight and reportedly had killed several enemy fighters before being forced to withdrawal where they then linked up with the others and began devising another plan to get to their comrades at U.S. Vehicle 2.

[1224hrs 5:56 – 6:09]

Back at the defensive position enemy forces were massing once more and the team commander made another decision to withdrawal from this new kill zone. The remaining Nigerien vehicles immediately left the convoy and sped off to the west, U.S. vehicle one circled around the perimeter picking up both U.S. and Nigerien forces still on the ground.

1225-1230 HRS [6:28- 6:46

Sgt Johnson and two Nigerien commandos attempted to drive away with the remaining U.S. truck, U.S. Vehicle 1, left Sgt Johnson and the two Nigeriens thinking they were right behind them, yet the intense volume of fire Sgt Johnson found himself under made it impossible. SGT Johnson and the two Nigeriens unable to run north, bolted south at a full sprint to elude the enemy fighters attempting to envelope them.

[7:00 – 7:20]

Sgt Johnson had run nearly half a mile with enemy technicals and fighters in pursuit, the two Nigerien commandos were then killed by small arms some 1,300 feet from the defensive position to the north.

[7:26 – 7:36]

Sgt Johnson sprinted another 1,500 to the only cover he could find, a thorny tree. An enemy technical came up to 300 feet to Sgt Johnson and began firing its heavy machine gun pinning Sgt Johnson to the ground while another group of enemy fighters circled his position to the north. Sgt Johnson held them off for as long as he could until he was shot and killed by small arms from the flanking enemy group from the north.

Troops within U.S. Vehicle 1 while moving northwest suffered small arms injuries as the fled to the north, one of the injured was the team captain who once being shot fell out of the back of the truck and had to be picked up by the bullet-riddled and wounded soldiers of U.S. truck 1.

[1233hrs 9:22 – 9:39

U.S. Vehicle 1 made it into the wooded area to the west and became stuck in a swamp. There the four Green Berets who earlier attempted to rescue U.S. Vehicle 2 members caught in the original ambush reunited with the truck. At 1233hrs the team commander reported to the AOB, “Broken Arrow,” the code word that a U.S. military element was about to be overrun and destroyed.

This was the first, and only call for help the team would send, believing they were going to be swiped out by enemy forces the remaining team destroyed their radio equipment lest it fall into enemy hands.

[9:42 – 10:06]

The remaining team of seven Green Berets and four Nigeriens broke contact from the enemy and ran through the swamp and to a clearing to the northwest and prepared what was called “The Alamo” defensive position. They all prepared to fight to the death at this position as they waited to hopefully be extracted by friendly forces.

During this, French Mirages screamed overhead of the team in a low and very loud show of force which more than likely scared the advancing enemy fighters away from pursuing the remaining team members into he swamp. Shortly afterward elements of French special operations in nearby Burkina Faso flew in with Puma helicopters and secured the team and the bodies of Black, Johnson, and Wright that had already been stripped of their weapons, equipment, and clothing and stacking atop one another in U.S. Vehicle 2.

48hrs later the body of Sgt LaDavid Johnson would be found by Nigerien forces in the same condition, stripped of weapons, equipment, and uniform, under the very tree that he sprinted over a mile to for cover.

With the litany of errors being focused on by The Department of Defense, the overwhelming and incredible selflessness and valor each and every Special Forces soldiers and their Nigerien counterparts displayed must be heralded and celebrated. These men fought and died on one of the worst conditions ever to placed onto a U.S. Special Forces team in decades, they should be treated as heroes and counted as such.