WASHINGTON, Oct. 6, 2017 — The body of another U.S. service member has been recovered from Niger where an attack occurred Oct. 4 during an advise-and-assist mission, bringing the number of U.S. service members killed to four, U.S. Africa Command’s director of public affairs said today.
Army Col. Mark R. Cheadle briefed reporters at the Pentagon, describing the mission as one that was not meant to be an engagement with the enemy.
“It was meant to establish relations with the local leaders and the threat at the time was deemed to be unlikely,” Cheadle said, “so there was no overhead armed air cover during the engagement. But our allies the French were very quick to respond with their assets immediately upon notification that it was needed.”
Service Member Deaths
On Oct. 4, three U.S. service members and one partner-nation member were killed, and two U.S. service members were wounded while conducting a mission in support of Nigerien security forces in the southwestern part of the country, chief Pentagon spokesperson Dana W. White said during a news conference yesterday.
The wounded personnel were flown to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, and earlier today the Pentagon released the names of three of the fallen soldiers. They are Army Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black, 35, of Puyallup, Washington; Army Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, 39, of Springboro, Ohio; and Army Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright, 29, of Lyons, Georgia.
It is the first time American forces have been killed and wounded in combat in the country, White said.
Joint Staff Director Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, who joined White during yesterday’s press conference, said there’s a risk for U.S. forces in Niger.
“Anytime we deploy full forces globally we will look very hard at the enablers that need to be in place in order to provide security for them. And that ranges from the ability to pull them out if they are injured, to the ability to reinforce them at the point of a fight if they … need reinforcement. We look at all those things, and evaluate on a continual basis,” he said.
Honoring the Fallen
Two days after DoD notified the public about the three deaths in Niger, Cheadle said that Nigerien security forces found the body of the fourth U.S. service member.
A joint patrol of about 40 soldiers searched for the soldier, who at the time was thought to be missing, until his body was found by the Nigerians, Cheadle said, adding that there was a full-court press by all of DoD, the Nigerian government, the State Department and the French allies to help recover the lost soldier.
When they found the soldier’s body, Cheadle said, “they were fully aware of the need to honor [him] and they transported the body to a location far away from the attack, where our special operations forces met them.”
He added, “And I watched this myself. I watched the brothers carry the fallen soldier to the aircraft and watched it take him away to Niamey, the capital, where [he] was identified.”
The fourth fallen soldier’s name will be released after next of kin notification procedures are complete, DoD officials said.
Cheadle said they don’t know where the soldier’s vehicle was hit or where he came under fire.
“We are looking into all the facts that we can gather and [with our Nigerien partners] we will … figure out why this happened and what can be done to protect our soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen in the future,” Cheadle said.