Soldier in Bloody Niger Mission Had Warned of Gaps, Defense Officials Say

Mar 19, 2018 · 45 comments
Concerned (New Jersey)
Where is the congressional hearings? What's appropriate for Bengazi should be appropriate for Niger - right Congressman Goudy?
rRussell Manning (San Juan Capistrano, CA)
The article was in today's print edition, as well. No mention, however, of the disgusting and cruel treatment of Sgt. La David's widow by Kelly and then Trump. May we suspect racism? Nah, not these rubes. But when the congresswoman, a friend of the bereaved's family, was also attacked, an African American, then we know it is racism, rampant racism in our GOP-controlled government.
Will Hogan (USA)
Paternity leave, huh? And being replaced by a much less experienced officer....sounds like bad staffing problems to me. There should be a rule that when an officer takes leave, another of equal or higher rank and experience must be used to replace. Four soldiers lost their lives.
Frank (UK)
Nine soldiers. Nine soldiers lost their lives.
Cody McCall (tacoma)
"are troubled that low-level officers are being blamed for the botched mission. . ." Hasn't it always been ever thus, the 'stuff' always rolling downhill to lower echelons? Just another one of the age-old privileges of rank. And, surprise, Mr. Taxpayer, we are now at war in Niger! Okay, time out while we all go find it on a map.
spade piccolo (swansea)
'The mission began as a routine patrol ..' Exactly the problem: how routine the NYT takes hopeless, far-flung. unwinable American military operations. 'The two [anonymous of course] officials said Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, are troubled that low-level officers are being blamed for the botched mission instead of senior commanders who should be aware when American troops are undertaking a high-risk raid.' So nice of the NYT to tell us how troubled Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, are. Noted. 'The two Defense Department officials, both of whom have knowledge of the preliminary findings, spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation has not yet been released.' Transcription: the War Department approved these two lackeys to make comments off the record to the Times, the Times agreed.
Francis Andrew Kasoer (Baltimore)
Our country is involved in Niger? What business do we have there? Will this lead to some reactionary excess of "Western Imperialism" or "Yankee Imperialism" as in colonial times of old?
Jeffrey (St. Louis)
I don't think it has anything necessarily to do with Niger, it's just that ISIS has a presence in Niger and we're fighting ISIS. The purpose of this mission was to deal with an ISIS militant.
kay (new york)
Thank you for the report. We have not heard enough about this.
Dr. DR (Oregon)
I'm confident that congress and the Trump white house will launch a thorough investigation into the reasons for this tragic loss of life as was the case in the Benghazi hearings.
William Ripskull (Ohio)
Yeah, they're almost the same (to the clueless).
Midwest Josh (Four Days From Saginaw)
This is solid reporting, unlike what we got after the Benghazi attack. Mistakes were made. First, take the needed steps to assure those mistakes aren't repeated, then play the blame game.
MKRotermund (Alexandria, Va.)
This article by Helene Cooper, and others by her, point to a serious problem in the Defense Dept.’s approach to war. There is lots of focus on better, lighter equipment and billions spent on “information management”. But where is the focus on knowledge? The radar operator saw the Japanese fleet approaching on that fateful morning in Hawaii; the chain above him did not trust the new technology. No ships were moved out of harm’s way. The same fate befell the knowledge of an enlisted radio operator who plotted out an entirely new and more widespread pattern of North Vietnamese radio traffic. The reaction up the chain was that an enlisted soldier could not have the means to predict the Tet Offensive. Information management does not equate to knowledge management. Corporate America is proud of their Chief Information Officers (CIOs)—until the computers fail them. The military services need Chief Knowledge Officers (CKOs) down to the platoon level. Only someone on the ground—as opposed to West Africa or Germany or Washington commands—can best integrate local information into knowledge. They will stop collecting data for conversion into information if they are not allowed to form information into knowledge: “above my pay grade”.
Patrick Cone (Seattle)
Where is the Republican "outrage" on the scale of Benghazi with this event? Do we blame Tillerson? Oh, the Donald sent him away. So, let's see... who's left?
Will Hogan (USA)
Hillary was not even involved in the decisions leading to Benghazi. it was her juniors. I hope all you Trump voters enjoy losing your Medicare after Trump gives the money for a tax break to the rich. You were played.
This is Trumps Benghazi. Where is Trey Gowdy and his 2 year investigation?
Bill (Terrace, BC)
This is hideous. I am sure that the Commander-in-Chief is fully aware of this horrendous breakdown in the Army chain of command that happened on his watch & that he will take swift action....if FOX & Friends tells him to.
C (Canada)
From the very beginning the White House has been eager to punch as far down as possible and blame everyone they can for this mission - except themselves. From the very first, Donald Trump, the man at the top, the Commander in Chief, has blamed the dead soldiers, their widows, the French, and the Nigeriens. There had been absolutely no accountability from the United States command for their actions. Now Canada is sending troops, helicopters, and medical personnel to Mali, as part of the UN peacekeeping mission there. When the Americans pull another stunt like this again, will the White House blame us, too? Will they throw us under the bus, along with the families of dead soldiers and their missing corpses? Or will there finally be some accountability about who is really responsible for American deaths in new conflicts started during the Trump administration?
Smitty54 (Martinez,Ca.)
Good questions
Beantownah (Boston)
Well done Gibbons-Neff. Keep up the good work. No one (still) knows the full extent of what may be going on in the Niger/Mali/Nigeria (which really is not Niger, folks, really!) theater. Though it would be unfortunate for the Times to risk a correspondent to find out. As for the dime a dozen news pundits and commentators who (obscenely) are somehow blaming the Soldiers for their own deaths, stop it. As per prior reporting, this is a largely ignored (in the US) and under-resourced mission in a region with not one, not two, but three different terror groups. It is dangerous and these troops were on the front lines fighting for us. They did the best they could. Fog of War does not begin to describe the Wild West show that this area seems to be. And when things go badly, it's the lower ranks who get blamed. Stuff going downhill may be a military tradition, but not a fair one.
Paul Plummer (Coon Rapids, MN)
Anyone who thinks this is unusual is naive. This is the way the military operates much of the time- dysfunctional. This is why I respect Obama's inclination to NOT get involved militarily in world affairs.
SteveRR (CA)
Who exactly do you think sent the majority of these American resources to Africa?
spade piccolo (swansea)
'This is why I respect Obama's inclination to NOT get involved militarily in world affairs.' This is why I find it so difficult reading comments in the NY Times.
Jenifer (Issaquah)
More incompetence and lack of accountability. Any business, school or family that requests honesty and accountability from within are going to be facing a tough task. My response would be that they need not worry because I intend to be as "Honest and accountable as the President of the United States!" What more can they ask then that?
DC (Outer DC)
"The leader of an ill-fated team of American soldiers in Niger last fall warned before the mission that his troops did not have the equipment or intelligence necessary to carry out a kill-or-capture raid against a local militant..." What I want to know is will the Republicans and their omnibus that's flush with all those billions of dollars for our war machine, now be able to find enough money to pay for the equipment and fund the intelligence necessary to protect our troops? Or do they have something else in mind on how to spend money to Make America Great Again?
spade piccolo (swansea)
' be able to find enough money to pay for the equipment and fund the intelligence necessary to protect our troops? ' Me, DC, thinks the question should be: what are we doing in Niger? But, unfortunately, you're asking the questions.
Java Junkie (Left Coast)
"It's never the plane - It's always the pilot!" Low level officers... That's the same shtick the Army has been using since the British ran Washington out of NY in the Battle of Brooklyn Heights. The General of that command is the Captain of the SHIP! You run the ship aground General - You lose your job! - That simple! Low level officers bwaaahahahahaha
GSS (Bluffton, SC)
Mixed metaphor, but absolutely true.
Rodger Parsons (NYC)
The most important thing our armed forces can do is to preserve mission integrity. Integrity of command, integrity of the plan, and up and down the line awareness. Whenever there is a departure form this the probability of the mission is at risk. To all those who have served and are serving - thank you.
Julie W. (New Jersey)
Even is we accept the notion that lower-level officers gave the go-ahead for this mission, the question still remains as to why they would even think that they had the authority to do so. Either something is wrong in the chain of command within AFRICOM, or someone isn't telling the truth. Either way, there must be hearings.
David Meli (Clarence)
Four Patriots died when they did not have to. First lets remember them. Second lets educate ourselves on why we are in Niger. Maybe we need to be there to stop Isil. What needs to take place in Congress is a vigorous debate. Is it in our strategic interests? Is the mission accomplish-able? What are the mission parameters? What we seem to have is a clandestine war. What makes it more dangerous is it is being led by a president who lacks the fundamental understanding of the art of force. In normal times this might be checked by an assertive congress, we don't have that. Thus it begs to be pointed out how different this is from a few years ago. Obama tried to get congress to commit to authorization for the use of force against Syria, but the Republican congress was operating under its NO wins strategy for the president. When Benghazi happened congress didn't reflect on the budget cuts to the State Dept. rather they accused Clinton of a cover up, complacency and even collusion. She had a terrible choice: leave the consulate or transfer security forces from the embassy, leaving that site vulnerable. It is not to say that both Obama and Clinton did not make mistakes, but now the accountability is different. Where are the cries for an investigation? Why has the chain of command broken down? Why the clandestine war? Why did American troops need to be saved by french air power? Sad. But Truman desk sign read, "the buck stops here"
notfooled (US)
What a tragedy for these soldiers, who knew they were not supplied for such a mission and were sent in anyway, war is such a waste. I look forward to the rigorous, multiple, in-depth investigations by Congress about why Trump, Mattis, and Tillerson allowed the preventable slaughter of these young men. Perhaps Trey Gowdy can head these up since he has so much experience with that type of thing.
Greg (Texas)
The Trump administration is to blame? How about the leadership that sold this only on intelligence and not troop reediness? Those decisions are made by the military brass.
Nick (New York)
Lets just be honest and call it for what it is, a cover-up. Should we be surprised?
Lilou (Paris)
It's a cover-up, sure, but why this one botched incident of 8 lives lost owing to a screwed up chain of command? It has received an inordinant amount of column inches. One has to wonder why. The U.S. military has no problem killing thousands each year, including civilians. There have probably been many botched communications since we entered the Middle East, and now Africa.  So why so much publicity over these deaths in this place? It's seems as if the Pentagon prepared an entire white paper for this one small incident.  America kills better than any country. It's their chief talent, unfortunately. They've made many mistakes along the way. That these soldiers are dead is a tragedy, more so for their families.  But if the Army insists that the press cover this minor incident, why not start with all the collateral damage in the Middle East instead, the loss of housing, services and commerce, and what role the U.S. played in that scenario. That is over 30 years, and the Pentagon has always avoided publicity about military errors, missed targets, dead civilians, etc. Why so much coverage for this minor, and more typical than anyone cares to admit, incident. Was one of the soldiers the son of a rich Republican donor?
Shim (Midwest)
Seems like Trump's Benghazi. Send these brave men with no support when things got bad.
Atikin ( Citizen)
You can sure that if Hillary Clinton was still the Secretary of State when this happened, Senator Trey Goodyear would be all over it with hearing after hearing after hearing......
Atikin ( Citizen)
Make that Trey Gowdy. (Seems Republicans only care about the deaths of military personnel when they can pin it on the democrats.)
bnc (Lowell, MA)
Was this like David sending Uriah to battle?
Phyliss Dalmatian (Wichita, Kansas)
They died for nothing. No goals, no plans, no sense. WHY????? And, as usual any blame will be placed on someone way down the chain. This one is on you, Trump. Explain yourself. NOW.
Laura A (Minneapolis)
The Pentagon has no interest in taking responsibility for its decisions, or for events like this occurring due to failures in oversight. With former generals aplenty in Trump's White House--whose feet are not put to the fire--there's no pressure from any corner of the federal government to take responsibility for anything.
stu freeman (brooklyn)
If Obama and Hillary have to keep accounting for what they did and didn't do in Benghazi when four American lost their lives why does The Donald get a pass when the same number of Americans die in a botched combat situation that occurs on his watch?
Socrates (Downtown Verona. NJ)
Stu....accountability, responsibility and consequences are for Democrats only. Surely you can appreciate the 'heads I win; tails you lose' divinely blessed fascist morality of the Gored Ox Party. They can do no wrong....even though virtually everything they do is wrong. Hypocrisy is the ultimate Republican family value.
manuel (arizona)
The real question is why and what are we doing in African? Wasting live for someone's corporate profit. Lets get real understand why the average Joe is getting manipulated regardless of political party.
Steve (OH)
And five Nigeriens died as well. And we don't know how many others lost their lives.
See also