There’s a lot we still don’t know about what happened in Niger and why four American soldiers died there. These facts have emerged:
Q: What were U.S. troops doing in Niger?
A: Niger, bordered by Libya, Nigeria and Algeria, is key to the fight against Islamic terrorists. U.S. troops arrived in 2013 to help the French military run an operation against Al-Qaida in Mali. Today, there are about 800 U.S. soldiers assisting in the fight against Al-Qaida, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and Boko Haram.
Q: What happened the day of the attack?
A: The official account is that eight to 12 U.S. soldiers were accompanying Nigerien troops on some kind of mission near Tongo Tongo. The group met with leaders and collected supplies. As they were heading home, they were ambushed by militants. There was a firefight. U.S. soldiers ran for cover and began returning fire. By the end of the fight, the remains of three Americans were retrieved. Sgt. La David Johnson had been separated from the rest. It took 48 hours to recover his body.
Q: Did the Army do enough to protect its soldiers?
A: The Pentagon says the answer is yes. Defense Department officials said that soldiers had carried out 29 similar operations in the past six months with no problems. They were considered routine. But critics wonder if enough precautions were taken. The troops were armed only with rifles and traveled in unarmored trucks. There was no U.S. drone overhead. French officials said they felt the U.S. military acted without enough intelligence or contingency planning.
Q: Who were the militants?
A: The Defense Intelligence Agency has said they believe the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara was behind the attack. The group has been around at least since 2015, when its leader split from Al-Qaida. In the past, the group has attacked French counterterrorism forces, but they’ve never before launched an attack on the United States. The attacker carried small arms, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades. The Pentagon said they were “well-equipped and trained.”