NEWS

Pentagon identifies 3 Bragg soldiers killed in Niger ambush — 4th found dead

Three Fort Bragg soldiers were among those killed during an attack in Africa earlier this week.


The soldiers, assigned to the 3rd Special Forces Group, were attacked while conducting an advise and assist mission in Niger on Oct. 4, according to the Pentagon.

A fourth soldier, who had been missing in Niger for two days, was found dead on Oct. 6, officials said. According to reports, several Nigerien troops were also killed or wounded.

News of the fourth soldier makes Oct. 4 the deadliest day for deployed Fort Bragg soldiers since July 14, 2010, when seven soldiers were killed in two incidents in Afghanistan.

Three of the slain American soldiers were identified Oct. 6 as Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black, 35, of Puyallup, Washington; Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, 39, of Springboro, Ohio; and Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright, 29, of Lyons, Georgia. The fourth soldier had not been identified as of Oct. 6.

Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright (left), Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson (center), and Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black. Photos from US Army.

Two US service members were also wounded in the attack. They were evacuated in stable condition to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, officials said.

The attack on US and Nigerien forces occurred in southwest Niger, approximately 120 miles north of the capital of Niamey.

According to US Africa Command, which is based in Germany, the Special Forces soldiers were providing advice and assistance to Nigerien security force counter-terrorism operations.

US troops have been in West Africa for years, bolstering the defense capabilities of partner nations while combating terrorist groups like Boko Haram and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

The 3rd Special Forces Group has played a large role in the region since 2015, when the group refocused its efforts to Africa after more than a decade of constant deployments to Afghanistan.

Boko Haram fighters. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

A spokesman for US Army Special Operations Command said the incident is under investigation.

Black, a Special Forces medical sergeant, and Wright, a Special Forces engineer sergeant, were assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group. Johnson, who served as a chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear specialist, was assigned to the Group Support Battalion.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with this soldier's family as we mourn the loss of this dedicated Green Beret," Lt. Col. David Painter, the commander of 2nd Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group, said Oct. 6. "Staff Sgt. Black is loved by so many in our battalion, and his life was spent in service to his family, his friends, his team, and his country."

Painter said Wright was also an exceptional Green Beret, "a cherished teammate and devoted soldier."

"Dustin's service to 3rd Special Forces Group speaks to his level of dedication, courage, and commitment to something greater than himself," Painter said. "We are focused on caring for the Wright family during this difficult period."

Green Berets. Photo courtesy of US Army.

Lt. Col. Megan Brogden, the commander of the Group Support Battalion, said Johnson was an exceptional soldier.

"We, as a nation, are fortunate to have men like Jeremiah," she said. "He not only represented what we should all aspire to be, but he lived it. His loss is a great blow and he will be missed and mourned by this unit."

Black enlisted in the Army in October 2009 and his awards and decorations include the Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Special Forces Tab, Ranger Tab, Parachutist Badge, Air Assault Badge, and Marksmanship Qualification Badge -- Sharpshooter with Rifle.

Wright enlisted in July 2012. His awards and decorations include the Joint Service Achievement Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Special Forces Tab, and Parachutist Badge.

Johnson enlisted in October 2007 and his awards and decorations include two Army Commendation Medals, five Army Achievement Medals, three Army Good Conduct Medals, the National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Armed Forces Service Ribbon, Noncommissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon, Army Service Ribbon, Parachutist Badge, Air Assault Badge, Driver and Mechanic Badge, and Marksmanship Qualification Badge -- Expert with Pistol and Rifle.

USAF photo by Master Sgt. Russell Martin.

According to reports, Nigerien military leaders said a patrol of defense and security forces and American partners were near the border of Mali when they were ambushed by a group with a dozen vehicles and about 20 motorcycles.

On Oct. 4, chief Pentagon spokeswoman Dana W. White said this was the first time American forces had been killed and wounded in combat in Niger.

White and the director of the Joint Staff, Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, briefed members of the media on the attack. They stressed that American troops were in a support role, but McKenzie said that role can be dangerous.

"I think clearly there's risk for our forces in Niger," he said.

McKenzie said efforts to combat violent extremists in Africa were part of a global campaign against terrorism.

He said that with success in other parts of the world -- namely Iraq and Syria -- it is inevitable that terrorists will seek out safe haven in other countries.

A US Army Special Forces weapons sergeant observes as a Nigerien soldier bounds forward while practicing buddy team movement drills during Exercise Flintlock 2017 in Diffa, Niger, March 11, 2017. Army photo by Spc. Zayid Ballesteros.

"They tried to go to Libya; it didn't work out real well... And I don't want to make Libya into a model success story, but they've been unable to establish themselves there," McKenzie said.

The general said American forces would continue to work with forces in Niger and neighboring countries to increase their military capabilities and stop terrorists from taking root.

But he cautioned against concluding that the Niger attack showed a growing foothold for terrorist groups.

"I think that it does reflect the fact, though, that we're having enormous success against the core, the very heart of this movement," McKenzie said. "But we're going to be operating across the surface of the entire globe, for quite a while to complete these operations. This is simply a manifestation of that."

Neither White nor McKenzie would comment on the medical support available to the US troops, but 3rd Special Forces Group soldiers have previously prepared for deployments to Africa under the assumption that such support would not be close by.

Nigerien army soldiers shoot targets under 60mm illumination mortar rounds as a part of Exercise Flintlock 2017 in Diffa, Niger, March 9, 2017. Skills learned in exercises in Flintlock can be used in the multinational fight against violent extremist organizations.

Their training in recent years has included trips to Duke University Medical Center and other medical facilities to learn techniques that can support them in austere environments away from modern medical centers.

McKenzie said the military was constantly evaluating the type of support deployed troops need.

"Anytime we deploy full forces globally, we will look very hard at the enablers that need to be in place in order to provide security for them," he said. "And that ranges from the ability to pull them out if they are injured, to the ability to reinforce them at the point of a fight."

In statements, elected leaders sent their condolences to the friends and families of the fallen soldiers.

Sen. Thom Tillis, a North Carolina Republican, said the sacrifices of the three soldiers identified Oct. 6 would not be forgotten.

Senator Thom Tillis. Photo courtesy of WUNC.org

"This is a tragic reminder of the dangers facing our brave service members as they combat terrorism across the globe to keep our country safe," he said.

Rep. Richard Hudson, a Republican whose district includes Fort Bragg, said Fort Bragg and Special Forces communities were mourning for their comrades.

"We pray they feel God's comfort and know we are standing with them and support them -- always," Hudson said. "These elite soldiers have served in the most dangerous corners of the world, always ready and willing to put country before self. We are grateful for their service and will strive to honor their sacrifice."

The 3rd Special Forces Group has supplied a steady rotation of troops to Africa since 2015 and is also at the helm of a lieutenant colonel-level command based in North and West Africa.

The group's soldiers are focused on a 12-nation area of operations that includes Libya, Chad, Cameroon, Nigeria, Niger, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Mauritania, Senegal, Mali, and Burkina Faso.

Nigerien service members react to contact during Exercise Flintlock 2017 in Diffa, Niger, Mar. 3, 2017. Army photo by Spc. Zayid Ballesteros.

Officials with the group have said the Special Forces soldiers are "all in" on the Africa mission and committed to helping partner nations solve problems, not only with terrorism, but also poaching, illegal drugs, and human trafficking.

Teams of Special Forces soldiers, known as Operational Detachment Alphas, or A-teams, often work closely with military partners as well as US Department of State and US AID, among others.

Earlier this year, Painter, the commander of 2nd Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group, told The Fayetteville Observer that the Africa mission was different from what the soldiers experienced in Afghanistan, but not without risks.

"It can potentially be equally as dangerous but much less known," Painter said of working in Africa. "None of these are easy missions."

Quoting Brig. Gen. Donald Bolduc, then-commander of Special Operations Command-Africa, Painter said "The US is not at war in Africa, but make no mistake, the Africans are in many places."

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