The Defense Department is conducting an initial review of the mission in Niger and the ambush by 50 ISIS-affiliated fighters that left four US soldiers dead and two wounded.
Multiple US officials have described to CNN a scene of confusion on the ground during the unexpected firefight. The investigation will be an effort “to get all the facts correct,” an administration official familiar with the review told CNN.
The review will aim to determine precisely what happened — something that is still not clear nearly two weeks after the incident occurred, according to the official.
The comprehensive investigation of the timeline has been ordered by US Africa Command and includes all the military branches and elements of US intelligence agencies that were involved in the mission. Team members who were on the ground are being interviewed about what happened as well as preparations for the mission.
The preliminary findings are expected to be established at the end of the week, the official said. But they are likely to remain classified and be used to determine several other matters, including: whether a formal military investigation is warranted, whether military procedures and intelligence analysis need to be changed to avoid future incidents, and how Congress will be briefed on the ISIS ambush that resulted in the deaths of four soldiers.
Defense Secretary James Mattis indicated last week he was looking for some answers. “We will look at this and say, ‘Was there something we have to adapt to now? Should we have been in a better stance?'” Mattis told reporters.
But the review now underway is starting right at the beginning. A team of experts working for Africa Command will try to establish an hour-by-hour timeline, the administration official said.
Some of the key questions being asked in the investigation include:
- Why did the intelligence indicate it was ‘unlikely’ the 12-man team led by Green Berets would run into opposition?
- Were there missed indicators that ISIS was operating in the area?
- Were the villagers the team met with potentially ISIS loyalists?
- After multiple visits to the area, why was there an attack at this time?
- Once the ambush broke out, how did the body of Sgt. La David Johnson get left behind? Did he survive the ambush or was he killed instantly?,
- Where was his body found in relation to where the gun battle happened?
- Is it still accurate that a “beacon” was emitting from the battlefield, leading to some indication he might have been alive for a period of time?
- Was the evacuation and quick reaction plan that relied on the French sufficient? If it took them 30 minutes to arrive, what about the team being in a firefight for 30 minutes with no help?
- What led to the decision to deploy Navy SEALS for a possible rescue?
- Did the wounded get the medical care they needed in time?