Two veterans groups have asked U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to order a new, independent review of the military's official investigation of a Green Beret team ambushed by ISIS in Niger four years ago; an investigation about which they say a new documentary by ABC News raises troubling questions.
The bipartisan request came in a letter Thursday signed by the progressive VoteVets and the conservative Concerned Veterans for America. The two post-9/11 combat veterans' groups say they are united in opposing endless wars and championing military accountability.
"As you know, that ambush, which claimed the lives of four Americans, is under new scrutiny because of an in-depth documentary from ABC News, '3212 UNREDACTED.' While we would not presume to know all the facts surrounding the operation, the documentary raises disturbing new questions regarding the integrity of the investigation performed after the ambush," the letter to Austin said.
The ABC News documentary, now streaming on Hulu, was filmed over three years with the families of fallen special operations soldiers Sgt. 1st Class Jeremiah Johnson, Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright, Staff Sgt. Bryan Black and Sgt. LaDavid Johnson, following them as they searched for the truth about why their loved ones were killed.
The film scrutinizes the U.S. military's core findings of the 2017-18 investigation by the Pentagon's Africa Command (AFRICOM), one of which accused Operational Detachment-Alpha 3212 from 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) -- the green beret team -- of initiating a risky mission without senior commanders' approval to "capture or kill" a top ISIS commander.
But a network of dozens of confidential sources throughout the U.S. Army chain of command, ranging from team members up to general officers overseeing Africa operations, as well as AFRICOM's own investigators and knowledgeable intelligence community officials, told ABC News in its three-year investigation that ODA 3212 was in fact carrying out orders and did not go rogue.
Whistleblowers told ABC News that in an effort to shield senior commanders, AFRICOM laid blame at the feet of low-level officers and enlisted leaders for the ambush, in which more than 100 ISIS fighters massed and attacked the team of 11 Americans as they left the tiny village of Tongo Tongo, Niger, on Oct. 4, 2017.
The film reveals how, rather than going after the ISIS commander on their own, as alleged, the team's commander, Green Beret Capt. Mike Perozeni had objected multiple times to the mission but his superior officer based in Chad had overruled his concerns.
AFRICOM's then-commander Gen. Thomas Waldhauser criticized the green beret team for being poorly trained and ill-prepared for such a mission, as well as suggesting that they were trying to locate intelligence on the whereabouts of an American missionary held captive by jihadis in the Sahel region since 2016 -- aid worker Jeffery Woodke. Confidential government sources and whistleblowers on camera, such as former Assistant Secretary of Defense (Acting) Mark Mitchell, told ABC News that Waldhauser' s claim was untrue.
Pentagon officials did not immediately comment on the letter from the two veterans groups sent to Austin. In a previous statement, a Pentagon spokesperson said that the AFRICOM investigation of Tongo Tongo had been thoroughly reviewed and approved by the Trump administration, and that there were no plans to review the official record.
But retired Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, representing VoteVets, and Russ Duerstine, deputy director or Concerned Veterans for America, said Americans and the families of the fallen "deserve a new investigation, the findings of which cannot be questioned."
"A new review of the ambush is necessary and should be performed by those with no interest or responsibility in the region, and with no connection to anyone involved in the operation, at any level. Simply put, it should be completely independent," their letter said.
The veterans added that the discovery during a French military operation in Mali last August of Jeremiah Johnson's full helmet cam video -- which had only been seen in selective excerpts in an ISIS propaganda video -- should cause Pentagon officials to consider reviewing valor awards for some of the fallen soldiers.
In the footage, all four fallen soldiers are seen fighting, and Johnson appears to lead his teammates by calling out targets he has spotted. He is also seen attempting unsuccessfully to radio desperate reports that he, and Staff Sgts. Black and Wright have each been wounded, according to officials and family members who watched the full video.
Some soldiers, such as Capt. Perozeni and Sgt. Wright, had their recommended valor awards downgraded for reasons never made clear by Army officials, including the officer who downgraded them, Gen. Tony Thomas, then-commander of U.S Special Operations Command. Numerous military officials have told ABC News that such a review to upgrade medals given for the incident is underway, in light of what the unedited helmet cam video shows.