Unanswered questions about the Niger ambush as top general urges patience

Four U.S. soldiers were killed in an ambush earlier this month.

October 25, 2017, 12:23 PM

— -- Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Tuesday that he wants to wait for the results of the full investigation into the ambush in Niger that killed four U.S. soldiers before commenting on what may or may not have happened on Oct. 4. That includes questions on whether the soldiers’ mission had been changed to include a capture or kill mission of a high-value target, as was reported Monday evening by ABC News.

On Monday, Dunford told Pentagon reporters that 12 Americans and 30 Nigeriens had embarked on a reconnaissance mission in northern Niger. However, while speaking today, Dunford stressed he had no knowledge of any possible CIA involvement in the mission.

Dunford made his comments to reporters at a news conference following an all-day meeting at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, with 70 chiefs of defense from around the world for a discussion of how to counter violent extremism.

Both Dunford and Brett McGurk, the administration's point man on the anti-ISIS coalition, also explained to reporters that the ISIS insurgency in Africa involves the re-branding of local insurgencies.

Here's what you need to know:

Did the Niger mission change?

Dunford described anything to that effect as speculation and said that he preferred to withhold comment until the investigation is completed to gather all the facts about the mission. Though he acknowledged it is a legitimate question to ask, Dunford said, “Anything you’ve seen to that regard is speculation and once the investigation is complete we'll have the facts and we'll share them."

He described the “bits and pieces of information coming out" as "some speculation, some bits of fact."

"We want to make sure we have the whole story in context that we can provide to the families. That's my primary target audience right now," said Dunford. "They have legitimate questions, they've lost their loved ones and they have legitimate questions about what happened."

Was it a capture or kill mission?

Dunford said the 12-man U.S. team was authorized to accompany Nigerien forces when the prospects for combat were unlikely.

“Again when the investigation is complete, we will know the full details,” said Dunford. He referred to the mission’s initial assessment, then said, “I’m not willing to speculate on what happened after that,” adding he’d wait for the investigation to be completed.

Dunford had said at his Monday news conference at the Pentagon, "The rules in that part of West Africa are that we will only accompany our part in the forces when the chances of enemy contact are unlikely. So with that, they were equipped with machine guns, small arms and obviously had the ability with communications capability to reach back and get greater -- larger supporting arms."

Was there CIA involvement?

“I have no knowledge of CIA involvement,” said Dunford. “If there’s any other government organizations that are involved, that may or not come out in the investigation. But I’m not sure what you’re alluding to, I don’t know anything about it. But I can say that definitively. ”

ISIS in Africa?

As for the ISIS groups in Africa, Dunford explained how ISIS is “leveraging” local insurgencies.

"It’s not fair to say there’s a large flow of ISIS influence or leadership into Africa," said Dunford. He explained that with ISIS on the rope there has not been much of a flow of ISIS leadership or foreign fighters into Africa from Iraq or Syria.

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