More details surface about deadly ambush in Niger

We are learning how long after soldiers came under fire and called for backup that help arrived.
4:13 | 10/23/17

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Transcript for More details surface about deadly ambush in Niger
And we begin tonight with harrowing new details about what those four U.S. Special ops officers encountered during that deadly ambush in Niger. They were part of a larger team, and tonight, we've learned they were on their way back to base, when they were given a second mission. Those four American soldiers did not survive the attack. Toontd, we still do not know if they had body armor. What we doe know is when the call for help was made and how long it took in a rare moment today, the chairman of the joint chiefs coming before the cameras after the president today would not answer questions sent his way. ABC's Mary Bruce leading us off. The assessment by our leaders on the ground at that time was that contact with the enemy was unlikely. Reporter: But tonight, ABC news is learning much more about what really happened in the ambush that killed four American special ops soldiers and what their mission really was. It was octoberrd when 12 U.S. Soldiers and 30 knee genigerians set out on a reconnaissance mission to a remote village. But a senior intelligence official tells ABC news, but on their way back they were assigned a second mission, to kill or capture a high value target. They were supposed to be joined by a second U.S. Team that never made it. But they told to proceed on their own. The officials tell us that mission was unsuccessful, but exposed the Americans to the enemy. The next morning, the Americans are heading home when they sense something is off. A village elder is trying to stall them. Suddenly, 50 militants are upon them, armed with rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machines guns. According to the Pentagon's account, one hour into the firefight, the Americans called for help. My judgement would be that that unit thought they could handle the situation without additional support. Reporter: A U.S. Drone arrives within minutes, unarmed, but able to provide video of the ambush. 30 minutes later, French military aircraft mobilize to help. Two hours into the attack, those French planes arrive on the scene to provide cover. As night falls, two wounded U.S. Troops are evacuated. So are the bodies of the three U.S. Soldiers killed in action. But sergeant la David Johnson is still missing. His body would not be recovered for another 48 hours. On the evening of 6 October, sergeant Johnson's body was found and subsequently evacuated. From the time the firefight was initiated until sergeant Johnson's body was recovered, French, Nigerian or U.S. Forces remained in that area. Reporter: Congress wants answers, but some top lawmakers admit, they didn't know U.S. Troops were there. We don't know exactly where we're at in the world militarily, and what we're doing. I didn't know there was 1,000 troops in Niger. Reporter: The president has been taking credit for victories against ISIS. I totally changed the attitudes of the military and they have done a fantastic job. Yeah, ISIS is now giving up. They're giving up. They're raising their hands. They're walking off. Nobody's ever seen that before. Why didn't that happen before? Because you didn't have trump as your president. Reporter: But the Pentagon today made clear who is responsible for the deaths of these four Americans. So, our initial assessment is these are local tribal fighters that are associated with ISIS. And Mary Bruce joins us live tonight from the Pentagon. And Mary, we know the chairman of the joint chiefs said today, they believe contact with the enemy was not likely, but we're learning from a senior intelligence official, this was going to be a very high stakes mission. The team was on its way back to base, was told to turn around and was given a second mission to kill or capture a high value individual? Reporter: Yes, and David, a senior official tells us that that high value target was a known senior Al Qaeda or ISIS operative. And that they were told, quote, they had high confidence they knew where he was. And Mary, one more question on this tonight. According to an American survivor of this attack, he's now described what sergeant la David Johnson did in those hours, calling him a war hero who gave everything he had in this fight? Reporter: Yes. And David, in fact, the survivor tells ABC news, sergeant Johnson gave everything he had during this ambush, saying he died fighting for his brothers.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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