NEWS

This is the general demanding answers for the families of the soldiers who died in Niger

The Defense Department owes the families of the soldiers lost in Niger and the American people an explanation of what the soldiers were doing in Niger and why it was important, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said October 23rd.


Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford said the four Special Forces soldiers who were killed and the two who were wounded in the Oct. 4 action, were conducting an important train, advise, and assist mission with Nigerien forces.

Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaks with reporters about recent military operations in Niger Oct. 23, 2017, at the Pentagon. DoD photo by Air Force Tech. Sgt. Brigitte N. Brantley

Building Capacity of Local Forces

"Our soldiers are operating in Niger to build the capacity of local forces to defeat violent extremism in West Africa," the general said at a Pentagon news conference. "Their presence is part of a global strategy."

The soldiers were on patrol with forces from Niger, he said, when a group linked to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria attacked. "As we've seen many times, groups like ISIS and al-Qaida pose a threat to the United States, the American people and our allies," Dunford said. "They're a global threat enabled by the flow of foreign fighters, resources and their narrative."

Related: This is why the Pentagon is investigating the ambush in Niger that killed 4 special operators

The four soldiers — Staff Sgt. Bryan Black, Sgt. La David Johnson, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson and Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright — were training local forces to conduct security in their own country. The four Americans were part of a multinational response to the threat these violent extremists pose.

Fighting ISIS

ISIS seeks to survive in the dark corners of the world where local inhabitants lack the power and expertise to control the violent group, Dunford said. ISIS operates where it can exploit weaknesses in local government and local security forces, he added. Libya, Somalia, West Africa, certain places in Central and Southeast Asia are places where ISIS and like groups choose to operate.

"If you think of those enablers as connective tissue between groups across the globe, our strategy is to cut that tissue, while enabling local security forces to deal with the challenges within their countries and region," Dunford said.

The United States is working with nations around the world to improve their military capabilities and capacities, Dunford said. U.S. troops, he added, have been working with forces from Niger for 20 years, the general said, training more than 35,000 soldiers from the region to confront the threats of ISIS, al-Qaida and Boko Haram.

"Today, approximately 800 [U.S.] service members in Niger work as part of an international effort, led by 4,000 French troops, to defeat terrorists in West Africa," Dunford said.

Dunford related what is known about the Oct. 4 operation in Niger.

"On the 3rd of October, 12 members of the U.S. Special Operations Task Force accompanied 30 Nigerien forces on a civil-military reconnaissance mission from the capital city of Niamey to an area near the village of Tongo Tongo," he said. The village is located a little over 50 miles north of Niamey, and officials expected the chances of meeting an enemy were slight.

Also read: Nigerian Air Force takes out Boko Haram leaders

The next day, Dunford said, the forces began moving back, when they were attacked by approximately 50 enemy using small-arms fire, rocket-propelled grenades and technical vehicles.

"Approximately one hour after taking fire, the team requested support," he said. "And within minutes the remotely piloted aircraft arrived overhead. Within an hour, French Mirage jets arrived on station."

Still later, French attack helicopters arrived on station, and a Niger quick-reaction force arrived.

Firefight

During the firefight, two U.S. soldiers were wounded and evacuated by French aircraft to Niamey, and that was consistent with the casualty evacuation plan that was in place for this particular operation, Dunford said.

Three U.S. soldiers who were killed were evacuated the evening of Oct. 4, Dunford said.

"At that time, Sergeant La David Johnson was still missing," the general said.

"On the evening of Oct. 6, Sergeant Johnson's body was found and subsequently evacuated," he said. "From the time the firefight was initiated until Sergeant Johnson's body was recovered, French, Nigerien or U.S. forces remained in that area."

Questions to be Answered

The combat was tough and confused, the chairman said. There are more questions that need to be answered, he added, and that is why U.S. Africa Command appointed a general officer to investigate.

The questions that need answers, he said, include: Did the mission of U.S. forces change during the operation? Did U.S. forces have adequate intelligence, equipment and training? Was there a premission assessment of the threat in the area accurate? And, How did U.S. forces become separated during the engagement, specifically Sergeant Johnson?

And, why didn't they take time to find and recover Sergeant Johnson? Dunford said.

"We owe the families of the fallen more information, and that's what the investigation is designed to identify," he said.

The general said the campaign against violent extremists is making progress, but much more needs to be done.

Inflection Point

"Even with the fall of Mosul and Raqqa, we're at an inflection point in the global campaign, not an end point," he said.

The general said he's hosting the chiefs of defense and representatives from 75 different countries will meet to improve the effectiveness of the military network to defeat terrorism.

"In our discussions over the next day or two, we'll focus on improving information sharing between nations to detect and defeat attacks before they occur, and to improve the support we provide to nations confronted with violent extremism," he said. "And that's exactly what our forces in Niger were doing."

History

This pilot shot down an enemy fighter at Pearl Harbor in his pajamas

Comfort is important when doing a hard job. If it's hot on the work site, it's important to stay cool. If it's hazardous, proper protection needs to be worn. And comfort is apparently key when the Japanese sneak attack the Navy. Just ask Lt. Phil Rasmussen, who was one of four pilots who managed to get off the ground to fight the Japanese in the air.

Rasmussen, like many other American GIs in Hawaii that day, was still asleep when the Japanese launched the attack at 0755. The Army Air Forces 2nd Lieutenant was still groggy and in his pajamas when the attacking wave of enemy fighters swarmed Wheeler Field and destroyed many of the Army's aircraft on the ground.

Damaged aircraft on Hickam Field, Hawaii, after the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

There were still a number of outdated Curtiss P-36A Hawk fighters that were relatively untouched by the attack. Lieutenant Rasmussen strapped on a .45 pistol and ran out to the flightline, still in his pajamas, determined to meet the sucker-punching Japanese onslaught.

By the time the attack ended, Wheeler and Hickam Fields were both devastated. Bellows Field also took a lot of damage, its living quarters, mess halls, and chapels strafed by Japanese Zeros. American troops threw back everything they could muster – from anti-aircraft guns to their sidearms. But Rasmussen and a handful of other daring American pilots managed to get in the air, ready to take the fight right back to Japan in the Hawks if they had to. They took off under fire, but were still airborne.

Pearl Harbor pilots Harry Brown, Phil Rasmussen, Ken Taylor, George Welch, and Lewis Sanders.

They made it as far as Kaneohe Bay.

The four brave pilots were led by radio to Kaneohe, where they engaged 11 enemy fighters in a vicious dogfight. Even in his obsolete old fighter, Rasmussen proved that technology is no match for good ol' martial skills and courage under fire. He managed to shoot down one of the 11, but was double-teamed by two attacking Zeros.

Gunfire and 20mm shells shattered his canopy, destroyed his radio, and took out his hydraulic lines and rudder cables. He was forced out of the fighting, escaping into nearby clouds and making his way back to Wheeler Field. When he landed, he did it without brakes, a rudder, or a tailwheel.

There were 500 bullet holes in the P-36A's fuselage.

Skillz.

Lieutenant Rasmussen earned the Silver Star for his boldness and would survive the war, getting his second kill in 1943. He retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1965, but will live on in the Museum of the United States Air Force, forever immortalized as he hops into an outdated aircraft in his pajamas.

(U.S. Air Force photo)

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