Congressional aide says Niger ambush came after ‘Massive intelligence failure’

WASHINGTON (NBC News) – According to a senior congressional aide, the ambush in Niger that killed four U.S. servicemen stemmed in part from a “massive intelligence failure.”

The Pentagon has said that on Oct. 4, fewer than 10 special forces troops were at a village to meet with tribal elders. Another smaller group was guarding vehicles.

Around dusk, 40 to 50 militants ambushed the 12-man U.S. force of green berets, firing machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades. Four U.S. servicemen were killed and two were wounded.

French Air support arrived on scene 30 minutes after the attack to evacuate the U.S. casualties and recover those who were killed.

Sgt. La David Johnson was reportedly separated from the group during the attack. Aircraft overhead picked up a signal from a cell phone or his emergency beacon, but it grew faint during the search.

More than 100 special forces from across the globe joined the search, and Johnson’s body was recovered by Nigerian forces 48 hours after the attack.

In this Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017, frame from video, Myeshia Johnson cries over the casket of her husband, Sgt. La David Johnson, who was killed in an ambush in Niger, upon his body’s arrival in Miami. President Donald Trump told the widow that her husband “knew what he signed up for,” according to Rep. Frederica Wilson, who said she heard part of the conversation on speakerphone. In a Wednesday morning tweet, Trump said Wilson’s description of the call was “fabricated.” (WPLG via AP)

The Pentagon is challenging any suggestion that Sgt. Johnson was left behind.

“Nothing could further from the truth and that’s an important myth that needs to be corrected now,” said Lt. Gen. Ken McKenzie during a Pentagon briefing.

He says that American, Nigerian or French forces were actively searching for Sgt. Johnson until his body was recovered.

The senior congressional aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak publicly, said the House and Senate armed services committees have questions about the scope of the mission in Niger.

They are also questioning whether the Pentagon is properly supporting ground troops there.

According to the aide, there was no U.S. overhead surveillance during the mission, and no American quick-reaction force was available.

He says things could have been much worse for Americans if it weren’t for the arrival of French fighter jets.

Jim Mattis, Joseph Dunford, John McCain
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, left, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, right, speak with Chairman Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., center, as they arrive to testify on Afghanistan before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Though the Pentagon’s investigation could take months, Congress wants answers sooner.

On Friday afternoon, Defense Secretary James Mattis met with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee to discuss the Niger attack.

Earlier this week McCain said, “we are coequal branches of government. We should be informed at all times.”

Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., said Congress will require more information from the Trump administration as the war and counterterrorism operations expand across the globe.

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