Niger Ambush Came After ‘Massive Intelligence Failure,’ Source Says

The comments highlighted in blue below are by/from Col. (Ret.) David Maxwell & his contact info is at the bottom of this page.  There are some observations that David did not make that I will.  The hatred of POTUS Trump by most of the so-called ‘mainstream’ media is off the charts; and, they will stoop at nothing in an attempt to embarrass him, and/or, shed his national security team in a bad light.  Couple this hatred and intense desire to portray his national security team as asleep at the switch,  or incompetent — and, it is hardly surprising that an “unnamed senior congressional aide’s” off the record remarks would be taken out of context, embellished by him/her and/or, NBC, or any other media outside or Fox News or a few others.

Secondly, the ‘media’ is attempting to somehow equate the Niger engagement with Benghazi.  Sorry, POTUS Trump haters; but, that dog won’t hunt.  This wasn’t a U.S. Ambassador out in ‘Wild West Land,’ and an administration that repeatedly turned down, or ignored his requests to increase his security detail as well as harden his facilities.  But most importantly, the Trump national security team has not deliberately misled the public, and at that time, a supine press, that Benghazi was due to an anti-Islam video — for days, if not weeks after it was KNOWN as a well-coordinated/orchestrated terrorist attack.  Benghazi did not fit POTUS Obama’s narrative that al Qaeda was defeated and on the run.  Remember the Benghazi attack occurred about 2 months prior to a presidential election.

As to a ‘massive intelligence failure,’ — PLEASE.  Hyperbolic poppycock.  Niger is twice the size geographically as the state of Texas.  It is a huge area; and, it is mostly remote or ungoverned/tribal territory.  Getting on the ground critical HUMINT intelligence is difficult to say the least.  It is a HARD Target for a reason.  Drones and overhead surveillance can only tell you so much; and, in a region like Niger — not much.  The adversary……gets a vote.

Finally, DoD had an agreement with French military forces in the region to provide air cover, should something like this occur.  And, it was reported yesterday that French military aircraft were in the air over the ‘firefight’ but they couldn’t engage or provide fire support because they could not distinguish between friend and foe.

Should we find out what went wrong, do a lessons learned, and re-examine our presence and ROE, support, etc. in Niger — of course.  But, to somehow equate, or attempt to equate Niger with Benghazi; and/or a “Massive intelligence failure,’ exposes both the ‘mainstream’ media bias, and ignorance.  RCP ,

David Maxwell’s comment:  I wonder if the unnamed “senior congressional aide” received a classified briefing and is now sharing that information with the media.  If so I would think it would not be hard to find out who is that person.

Regrading an “intelligence failure” I think we should keep in mind that unlike all the special operations television shows and movies there is NOT an unblinking eye over every special operations team operating around the world that has a team of observers and analysts providing information about every potential threat that is in the vicinity of an operational detachment.   Unfortunately sometimes when you do not have good intelligence or there are gaps in intelligence that cannot be serviced by technical means you do have to send forces to gather that intelligence.  I am not saying that was the case in the operation (as I have no direct knowledge) but we should keep in mind that if we had “perfect intelligence” in all situations we might not need to put personnel in harm’s way.  Again if this was a “key leader engagement” it could be that they needed to be able to assess the situation and gather information that is necessary to determine intentions and gain insights that may not be able to be obtained through technical means.  This was a tragic incident but we need to be careful of he knee jerk reactions and assessments by those who sensationalize such events without the understanding necessary to fully describe them or worse second guess them.

Niger Ambush Came After ‘Massive Intelligence Failure,’ Source Says

WASHINGTON — A senior congressional aide who has been briefed on the deaths of four U.S. servicemen in Niger says the ambush by militants stemmed in part from a “massive intelligence failure.”

The Pentagon has said that 40 to 50 militants ambushed a 12-man U.S. force in Niger on Oct. 4, killing four and wounding two. The U.S. patrol was seen as routine and had been carried out nearly 30 times in the six months before the attack, the Pentagon has reported.

The aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak publicly, said the House and Senate armed services committees have questions about the scope of the U.S. mission in Niger, and whether the Pentagon is properly supporting the troops on the ground there.

There was no U.S. overhead surveillance of the mission, he said, and no American quick-reaction force available to rescue the troops if things went wrong. If it weren’t for the arrival of French fighter jets, he said, things could have been much worse for the Americans.

Congress also has many unanswered questions about what happened, he said, including about the specifics of the mission that day and the accounts lawmakers have been given about the timeline of the attack and rescue.

The aide said questions are being asked about whether the U.S. soldiers were intentionally delayed in the village they were visiting. He said they began pursuing some men on motorcycles, who lured them into a complex ambush. The enemy force had “technical” vehicles — light, improvised military vehicles — and rocket-propelled grenades, the official said.

After the rescue when it became clear that one soldier was missing, “movements and actions to try and find him and bring him back were considered. They just were not postured properly [to get him].” The body of Sgt. La David Johnson was not recovered until nearly 48 hours after the Oct. 4 attack.

A Pentagon spokesperson called the claim of an intelligence failure “speculation.”

“An investigation is underway,” said the spokesperson. “At the conclusion of the investigation, we will provide further details.”

On Thursday, Director of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie said that “every tactical engagement doesn’t necessarily proceed from an intelligence failure. We’ll look at it and we’ll come to conclusions about how intelligence could have supported adequately or inadequately the engagement that occurred. But on a battlefield, the enemy gets a vote.”

“Sub-Saharan Africa is a very difficult place to operate,” said Gen. McKenzie.

On Friday afternoon, Defense Secretary James Mattis met with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, to discuss the Niger raid.

Earlier this week, McCain said the committee had not been provided with the information about the Niger mission that it “deserves.”

Myeshia Johnson cries over the casket of her husband, Sgt. La David Johnson, who was killed in an ambush in Niger, upon his body’s arrival in Miami, on Oct. 17, 2017. WPLG / AP

Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., told reporters Friday that it’s too early to say whether there was an intelligence failure, “but that’s exactly the kind of questions we should be asking ourselves.”

He said Congress will require more information from a Trump administration that is expanding counterterrorism operations across the globe.

Trump is loosening the rules of engagement when it comes to lethal action against terrorists, and expanding the counterterrorism fight to different parts of the world, including across Africa, Graham said.

“The war is morphing,” he said. “You’re going to see more actions in Africa, not less.”

In that context, Graham said, “I will insist that Congress is informed more often and in more detail,” about military operations.

He added, “As the war expands, as the military had more authority, Congress is going to require more information.”

Pentagon officials say operations in the region have already “tightened up” and there’s been an operational “pause” while the U.S. military’s Africa Command (AFRICOM) assesses the situation. U.S. officials believe the attack was carried out by a local terror group that claims association with ISIS.

Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, commander of AFRICOM since 2016, told Congress in March that only 20 to 30 percent of AFRICOM’s needs for “intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance” flights were being met. The Marine Corps general said there weren’t enough helicopters to find wounded or dead soldiers, and that African partners weren’t able to help with recovery missions.

“For personnel recovery,” he said, “Africa Command relies heavily on contract search and rescue assets.”

David S. Maxwell
Associate Director

Center for Security Studies
The Walsh School of Foreign Service
Georgetown University
Office: 202-687-3834
Cell: 703-300-8263
Twitter: @davidmaxwell161

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