Army Sargent Killed in Nigeria

The pen­ta­gon deployed elite com­man­dos in response to the dead­ly ambush of a Spe­cial Forces team in Africa, fear­ing that one sol­dier whom was miss­ing at the time was alive and might fall into ene­my hands, U.S. mil­i­tary offi­cials said.

The com­man­dos, with the secre­tive Joint Spe­cial Oper­a­tions Com­mand (JSOC), were deployed from the Unit­ed States late Octo­ber 4 after three U.S. sol­diers and 5 Nige­rien troops part­nered with them were declared killed in action, said three offi­cials, who had famil­iar­i­ty with the oper­a­tion and spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymi­ty because of its sensitivity.

The remains of the miss­ing sol­dier, Army Sgt. La David T. John­son, were recov­ered the evening of Oct. 6 after local nige­riens found Johnson’s body and turned it over to Nige­rien author­i­ties work­ing with U.S. troops.

Johnson’s sep­a­ra­tion from his unit after an ambush by mil­i­tants affil­i­at­ed with the Islam­ic State trig­gered the dec­la­ra­tion of what the mil­i­tary calls a DUSTWUN, which stands for “duty sta­tus where­abouts unknown,” the offi­cials said. Dec­la­ra­tion of that sta­tus typ­i­cal­ly leads to an intense search for a miss­ing ser­vice mem­ber. It is used when a com­man­der sus­pects that a ser­vice mem­ber may be absent invol­un­tar­i­ly, but does not think enough evi­dence exists to make a defin­i­tive deter­mi­na­tion, accord­ing to a U.S. mil­i­tary manual.


Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dun­ford Jr., the chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, appeared to allude to the deploy­ment of JSOC mem­bers dur­ing a news con­fer­ence Mon­day, say­ing that “nation­al assets” were made avail­able for the search. Dun­ford received a phone call from Marine Gen. Thomas D. Wald­hauser, the chief of U.S. Africa Com­mand, the night of the ambush, trig­ger­ing their approval for addi­tion­al help, the chair­man said.

Two U.S. mil­i­tary offi­cials said it is unlike­ly that JSOC would have deployed forces for the search if it was clear at the time that John­son was dead. The con­cern, the offi­cials said, was that the miss­ing sol­dier could be cap­tured alive.

All of us were prepar­ing at the time for PR sup­port,” said one U.S. mil­i­tary offi­cial, allud­ing to sen­si­tive per­son­nel recov­ery operations.

The deploy­ment of JSOC in response to Johnson’s dis­ap­pear­ance was first report­ed by ABC News. It has not pre­vi­ous­ly been report­ed that the mil­i­tary issued a DUSTWUN alert, or that com­man­ders had some con­cerns that John­son was alive and poten­tial­ly attempt­ing to evade those who had ambushed his unit. It is not clear whether they ever became direct­ly involved in the search.

JSOC includes the military’s most elite forces: the Naval Spe­cial War­fare Devel­op­ment Group, bet­ter known as SEAL Team 6, and the Army’s 1st Spe­cial Forces Oper­a­tional Detach­ment-Delta, bet­ter known as Delta Force. It is not clear which force was assigned to help, or if both were.

[Sergeant’s wid­ow says Trump’s stum­bling call made her “cry even worse”]

The ambushed unit includ­ed 12 U.S. sol­diers with the 3rd Spe­cial Forces Group, and deployed on a recon­nais­sance mis­sion Oct. 3 while accom­pa­nied by about 30 Nige­rien sol­diers, Dun­ford said. They were ambushed by small arms, rock­et-pro­pelled grenades and vehi­cles with weapons mount­ed on them out­side the vil­lage of Ton­go Ton­go while try­ing to return to their base in the cap­i­tal, Niamey, he said.

John­son, 25, worked as a mechan­ic and was attached to the 3rd Spe­cial Forces Group team. His death has been at the cen­ter of a polit­i­cal fight in which Pres­i­dent Trump has been accused of being dis­re­spect­ful in a phone call last week to the soldier’s preg­nant wid­ow, Myeshia John­son. Trump and some of his senior White House offi­cials have denied that was the case.

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The oth­er U.S. sol­diers killed in the oper­a­tion were Staff Sgt. Jere­mi­ah John­son, 39; Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black, 35; and Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright, 29. Staff Sgt. John­son was a con­ven­tion­al sol­dier trained to work with chem­i­cal, bio­log­i­cal, radi­o­log­i­cal and nuclear weapons, while Black and Wright were Green Beret soldiers.

Two U.S. mil­i­tary offi­cials said that La David John­son may have become sep­a­rat­ed from his unit in part because they were ambushed twice on Oct. 4. That detail, first report­ed by NBC News, may explain the chaot­ic nature of the mis­sion. Dun­ford said Mon­day that the U.S. and Nige­rien troops first faced ene­my fire that morn­ing, but did not call for help until about an hour lat­er, per­haps because they ini­tial­ly thought the sit­u­a­tion was under control.

The U.S. mil­i­tary has not clar­i­fied pub­licly when exact­ly John­son died, although the mil­i­tary did announce that he “died Oct. 4 in south­west Niger as a result of ene­my fire.”

Myeshia John­son told ABC’s “Good Morn­ing Amer­i­ca” on Mon­day that U.S. mil­i­tary offi­cials said she should not view her husband’s remains. Dun­ford, asked about that, said after­ward that a casu­al­ty assis­tance offi­cer may sug­gest that a fam­i­ly may not want to see their loved one’s remains, but that it is the family’s choice.

I don’t know what hap­pened in the case of Mrs. John­son, but we’ll cer­tain­ly find that out,” Dun­ford said. “From a pol­i­cy per­spec­tive, we would typ­i­cal­ly defer her to the family’s desires, and we do that.”







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