-- The Pentagon has identified the fourth U.S. soldier killed in the West African nation of Niger earlier this week in an ambush believed to have been carried out by an Islamic extremist group.
Sgt. La David T. Johnson, 25, from Miami Gardens, Florida, was assigned to the 3rd Special Forces Group based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Johnson had been initially listed as missing following Wednesday's ambush that took place in a remote area along Niger's border with Mali.
He was one of about a dozen U.S. Army soldiers conducting a joint patrol with about 40 soldiers from Niger when they came under attack by about 50 enemy fighters.
In addition to the three other U.S. soldiers killed along with Johnson, a soldier from Niger also died from the attack. Two other American soldiers were wounded in the ambush and were as of Friday receiving medical treatment at a U.S. Army hospital in Germany.
Johnson's remains were recovered on Friday by soldiers from Niger near the site of the ambush after an intense search for the missing soldier by forces from the U.S., Niger and France.
Prior to the discovery of Johnson's remains, U.S. Africa Command spokesman Col. Mark Cheadle said "more than a hundred" U.S. military personnel, including special operations forces, had been sent to Niger to assist with a possible rescue operation in the event the missing soldier was being held captive.
Cheadle said the U.S. "had an idea" of which Islamic extremist group may have been responsible for the attack.
"We are resolved and stalwart in our efforts to go after those who attacked," the spokesman said.
Various extremist groups operate along the Niger-Mali border area, including Ansar Dine, an al Qaeda-affiliated extremist group, and ISIS-West Africa.
Johnson enlisted in the Army in January 2014 as a wheeled-vehicle mechanic and was assigned to the 3rd Special Forces Group, a Green Beret unit.
His awards and decorations include the Army Achievement Medal, the Army Good Conduct Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Medal, the Army Service Ribbon, the Army Parachutist Badge, the Army Air Assault Badge, the Driver and Mechanic Badge, and the Marksmanship Qualification Badge - Sharpshooter with Rifle.
"The Bush Hog formation [Johnson's battalion] was made better because of Johnson's faithful service and we are focused on caring for the Johnson family during this difficult period," said Lt. Col. David Painter, commander of 2nd Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne).
The three other U.S. Army soldiers killed in the attack were identified by the Pentagon on Friday. They all served with Special Operations Forces and were based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Two, including Johnson, were support personnel, and two were Green Berets.
Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright of Lyons, Georgia, enlisted in the Army in July 2012 and was a Green Beret serving as a Special Forces engineer sergeant. His awards and decorations included the Joint Service Achievement Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Special Forces Tab, and Parachutist Badge.
Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson of Springboro, Ohio, enlisted in the Army in October 2007 and served as a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear specialist attached to the Green Beret unit.
His awards includes the Army Commendation Medal (2nd Award), Army Achievement Medal (5th Award), Army Good Conduct Medal (3rd Award), 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.
There are about 800 U.S. military personnel in Niger helping that country's counterterrorism efforts against extremist groups. Some of the U.S. forces are part of a drone surveillance mission over Mali that operates out of Niger's capital of Niamey.
Others are involved in a training-and-advising mission with Niger's military to improve its counterterrorism capabilities and the construction of a second drone base in northern Niger.