The Pentagon has started briefing the families of four soldiers killed in an ambush in Niger last October, and the military acknowledges a series of missteps contributed to the deaths, one family member told NPR.
“I think in any instance where people lose there lives, there were obviously mistakes that were made,” said Will Wright, the brother of one of those killed, Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright. Will Wright is himself a combat veteran, having served as a staff sergeant in Afghanistan. He and his family were briefed by military officers on Thursday.
“Having seen combat, having an understanding of combat situations, you’re always going to make mistakes, you’re never going to do it perfect. There are things you wish you could change every time,” Wright told All Things Considered co-host Ari Shapiro.
Asked if the military briefers described the failures on this mission, Wright said they did. But he added, “Out of respect for the families that haven’t received their briefings yet, I’d like to avoid specifics.”
The officers did tell Wright that the U.S. troops in Niger now have assets they did not have before, including armed drones and armored vehicles.
The Pentagon has sent the classified report on the Niger ambush to Congress. The report has not been released publicly, but an official who has seen it described it to NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. The official said there was both a lack of planning and training for the mission.
The report also raises questions about whether U.S. Special Forces in Niger are taking too many risks.
Five years in Niger
Twelve Americans, led by Green Berets, joined with a larger force of Nigerien troops on a routine patrol last Oct. 3 in the southwest part of Niger, near the border with Mali.
Americans forces have been in Niger since 2013 to train, advise and assist the Nigerien military in its battle with extremists linked to the Islamic State. The Americans are not supposed to take part in combat unless they come under fire.
As planned, the Americans and the Nigerien forces met with village leaders and spent the night. But instead of returning to their base the next day, the troops received a new mission. They were told to look for intelligence in an area where a militant leader had apparently fled.
According to the official who has seen the report, a lower-level officer signed off on this new mission, and higher-level officers were not aware of the change in plans.
The U.S. team was not expecting to encounter any militants and did not have heavy firepower or air support.
But the American and Nigerien forces ran into an ambush and were overwhelmed by some 50 fighters in a two-hour shootout in the village of Tongo Tongo.
The four Americans killed included Wright, Staff Sgt. Bryan Black, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson and Sgt. La David Johnson. Two more Americans were wounded, and five Nigerien soldiers were killed.
“As a veteran myself, the fog of war is something that’s hard to unravel,” Will Wright said. “Having the details [from the military], it really helped put things in context.”
President Barack Obama sent the U.S. troops to Niger five years ago, and around 800 are believed to be in the country. The Americans are building a drone base, but do not have a large airfield for manned aircraft that could mount a rescue mission.
“We as a nation are involved in Africa, but it is not on our radar,” Will Wright said. ” Most Americans aren’t aware, they aren’t informed about the extent of our involvement in Africa.”
Niger and other African countries want U.S. training and expertise to deal with security threats, but they do not want a large, visible American presence.
Until the American deaths in Niger, the U.S. military presence there received little attention.
The New York Times reported that on Dec. 6, two months after the October ambush, another group of Green Berets and Nigerien forces killed 11 militants in a shootout. The U.S. military did not announce the fighting at the time. But the Times reported it last month, describing it as one of 10 previously undisclosed clashes in West Africa since 2015.
7.3 Earthquake hits New Britain island in Papua New Guinea
7.3 Earthquake hits New Britain island in Papua New Guinea.
Preliminary reports warn tsunami waves could hit areas within 300km of the earthquake’s epicentre.
The quake hit off the coast New Britain region of Papua New Guinea earlier today. (Daily Star)
This is a breaking story and will be updated shortly
NY Man Planned to Blow Himself Up at Washington Mall
Police and FBI agents searched a Hudson Valley home Wednesday after learning about a man who was allegedly building a bomb in order to blow himself up in Washington D.C., two law enforcement officials told News 4 New York.
Investigators said they were concerned the man, identified as Paul Rosenfeld, at the home on Slocum Avenue in Orangetown was in the process of acquiring bomb parts.
Officials tell News 4 Rosenfeld had no criminal history but had told a reporter in Pennsylvania he planned to blow himself up on the Washington Mall around Election Day because he was angry about the country’s direction.
He had no plans to hurt anyone else, officials said. He is believed to be a lone actor not affiliated with any international terror group or ideology.
Full Article at https://nts24.co.uk/2A2oWjM
Trump ‘demanding’ answers from Saudis about missing writer
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump said Wednesday the U.S. is “demanding” answers from Saudi Arabia about the disappearance of a well-known Saudi writer and government critic Turkish authorities say was slain inside his country’s diplomatic mission in Istanbul.
Trump said he plans to invite to the White House the fiancée of Jamal Khashoggi, a writer for The Washington Post who has not been seen since he entered the Saudi consulate on Oct. 2 to get paperwork for his marriage.
Members of Congress have grown increasingly insistent that the administration find out what happened to Khashoggi. The Saudi government has become a closer ally under Trump and some lawmakers warn that relations could be jeopardized if it turns out the kingdom was involved in his disappearance.
Trump told reporters in the Oval Office that he has a call in to the fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, who had been waiting outside the consulate when Khashoggi went inside and has appealed to the president and first lady Melania Trump for help.
Trump said nobody knows exactly what happened and expressed hope that Khashoggi is not dead. He also said he had spoken with the Saudis about what he called a “bad situation,” but he did not disclose details of his conversations.
Saudi Arabia denies involvement in the disappearance of Khashoggi, a former insider in Saudi government circles who has been living in self-imposed exile in the U.S. for the past year after fleeing a crackdown on intellectuals and activists in the country.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said White House national security adviser John Bolton and White House senior adviser Jared Kushner spoke on Tuesday to Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman about Khashoggi. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo then had a follow-up call with the crown prince to reiterate the U.S. request for information.
While angry members of Congress likely won’t cause the administration to turn away from Prince Mohammed and end decades of close security ties with Saudi Arabia, they could throw a wrench into arms sales that require their approval and demand the U.S. scale back support for the Saudi military campaign against Iran-backed rebels in Yemen.
Republican Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said “there will definitely be consequences” if it turns out the Saudis were involved in Khashoggi disappearance. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said it would be “devastating” to the U.S.-Saudi relationship.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn, said if Saudi Arabia had lured a U.S. resident into a consulate and killed him, “it’s time for the United States to rethink our military, political and economic relationship with Saudi Arabia.” But he said it was unclear whether the Trump administration was willing to “go beyond words.”
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., a longtime critic of the Saudi government, said he’ll try to force a vote in the Senate this week blocking U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia. He told local radio in his home state Tuesday that he wants to end the arms shipments if there’s “any indication” the Saudis are “implicated in killing this journalist that was critical of them.”
Trump’s comments Wednesday were the toughest yet from his administration on the Khashoggi case. Officials have expressed concern but refused even to entertain questions about what the consequences would be if Turkish allegations turn out to be true. Pompeo has called on the Saudi government to conduct a thorough investigation and to be transparent about its results.
The reaction from European governments has also been cautious. British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt told his Saudi counterpart that if media reports about Khashoggi were correct, it “would be extremely concerning and the U.K. will treat the incident very seriously,” according to the Foreign Office.
The Saudi ambassador to Washington, Prince Khalid bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, has described the allegations as “malicious leaks and grim rumors” and said the kingdom is “gravely concerned” about Khashoggi. Saudi officials maintain he left the consulate shortly after entering, although it has failed to provide evidence.
Washington Post CEO and publisher Fred Ryan said reports suggested the journalist was victim of “state-sponsored, cold-blooded murder.” He demanded answers in a statement Tuesday, saying “Silence, denials and delays are not acceptable.”
Analysts said there were reasons for skepticism about the Turkish account. Ties between Ankara and Riyadh are at a low point over Turkey’s support for Qatar in that country’s yearlong dispute with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations. Saudi Arabia, a Sunni Muslim power, is also annoyed by Ankara’s rapprochement with the kingdom’s Shiite archrival, Iran.
Saudi authorities’ failure to provide video footage of Khashoggi’s movements at the consulate to rebut the Turkish allegations have only deepened suspicions.
The Trump administration, from the president on down, is heavily invested in the Saudi relationship. That’s unlikely to change, said Robin Wright, a scholar at the Wilson Center think tank and close friend of the missing writer. The administration’s Middle East agenda heavily depends on the Saudis, including efforts to counter Iranian influence in the region, fight extremism and build support for an expected plan for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
Indication of those stakes came within four months of Trump taking office, when Saudi Arabia became his first destination on a presidential trip and he announced $110 billion in proposed arms sales.
Prince Mohammed has introduced some economic and social reforms, allowing women to drive and opening movie theaters in the deeply conservative Muslim nation. The flip side, however, is that he’s also squelched dissent and imprisoned activists. He has championed the three-year military campaign against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen that has pushed that nation toward famine and caused many civilian deaths.
Still, the Trump administration last month stood behind its support for that campaign with weapons, logistics and intelligence, certifying that the Saudis were taken adequate steps to prevent civilian despite mounting evidence to the contrary.
Karen Elliott House, a veteran writer on Saudi affairs and chair of the board of trustees at RAND Corp., said U.S. support for the Yemen war is likely to be the focus of congressional criticism but won’t endanger a relationship that has endured for decades, underpinned by shared strategic interests. Even under the Obama administration, which had difficult relations with Riyadh compared with Trump, there were some $65 billion in completed arms sales.
“The U.S.-Saudi relationship is certainly not about shared moral values,” House said. “It’s about shared security interests.”
Associated Press writers Susannah George, Matthew Lee and Deb Riechmann and video journalist Padmananda Rama contributed to this report.
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