US commando killed in Niger op was not captured – leaked details
Speculation surrounding the death of a US commando in Niger is unfounded, according to an AP report. Sgt. La David T. Johnson died from multiple gunshot wounds sustained from long range in the African country last October.
He was one of four American troops killed during an ambush in Niger on October 4. Their deaths drew attention to the fact that the US had a military presence in the African nation, which surprised some lawmakers.
Johnson’s body was not found in the immediate aftermath of the attack, which caused speculation about the circumstances of his death. The Pentagon is currently preparing a report on the incident, but some US officials have apparently decided to address the speculation by sharing advance details of the report with the Associated Press.
Johnson, 25, was part of a 12-member US Army team, which was accompanying 30 Nigerien troops on a patrol mission. The unit was ambushed by an estimated 50 militants, armed with automatic firearms and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.
According to the AP report, Johnson was struck by as many as 18 rounds from a distance as he and two Nigerien soldiers were trying to escape. The rounds came from M-4 rifles and Soviet-made machine guns, according to autopsy report. Johnson’s body was found two days after the ambush under thick scrub, where he had apparently taken cover. There were no indications that he was taken prisoner or executed from close range, as rumors had suggested. His boots and equipment were missing, however, but he was still wearing his uniform when he was found. According to the US officials, Johnson “appeared to fight to the end.”
The Pentagon would not release details of the operation in Niger. Some reports earlier said the patrol was assisting in a search for intelligence to be used in tracking down a senior militant commander, and may have been waylaid by the enemy after a tip from a village that the patrol had visited.
After news emerged of the combat deaths in Niger, some US lawmakers expressed outrage and surprise that the White House had failed to tell Congress about the scale of American military presence in the country. “I’m all for going after terrorists,” Senator Lindsey Graham, member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told media at the time, “but I want to know before I read about it in the paper where our people are and what they’re doing.”
The incident also prompted controversy over the manner in which President Donald Trump had spoken to Johnson’s widow about her husband’s death. Democrat Representative Frederica Wilson told the media she was with Johnson’s family when Trump made the condolence call, and heard him saying that Johnson “knew what he signed up for.” The congresswoman accused the president of being insensitive, triggering a spat with the administration.