Pentagon report reveals series of failures led to deadly Niger ambush

WASHINGTON, May 10 (Reuters) - A series of individual and organizational failures, including a lack of training and situational awareness, contributed to a deadly ambush in Niger last year that killed four U.S. soldiers, a partial Pentagon report released on Thursday said.

The October ambush, carried out by a local Islamic State affiliate, has brought increased scrutiny of the U.S. counterterrorism mission in the West African country, and the report will likely raise more questions about U.S military operations on the continent.

President Donald Trump's handling of condolence messages to the families of the dead U.S. soldiers has been criticized by lawmakers in Washington and raised the profile of the deadly incident.

"The investigation identifies individual, organizational and institutional failures and deficiencies that contributed to the tragic events of 4 October 2017 ... no single failure or deficiency was the sole reason for the events," an eight-page summary of the report says. A redacted version of the complete report may not be publicly released for months.

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A combination photo of U.S. Army Special Forces Sergeant Jeremiah Johnson (L to R), U.S. Special Forces Sgt. Bryan Black, U.S. Special Forces Sgt. Dustin Wright and U.S. Special Forces Sgt. La David Johnson killed in Niger, West Africa on October 4, 2017, in these handout photos released October 18, 2017. Courtesy U.S. Army Special Operations Command/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY
A U.S. Army carry team transfers the remains of Army Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright of Lyons, Georgia, at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, U.S. on October 5, 2017. Courtesy Aaron J. Jenne/U.S. Air Force/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.
U.S. Army Sergeant La David Johnson, who was among four special forces soldiers killed in Niger, West Africa on October 4, 2017, poses in a handout photo released October 18, 2017. Courtesy U.S. Army Special Operations Command/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.

Staff Sergeant Dustin Wright, 29, of Lyons, Georgia

(Photo via U.S. Army)

Staff Sergeant Jeremiah Johnson, 39, of Springboro, Ohio

(Photo via U.S. Army)

Staff Sergeant Bryan Black, 35, of Puyallup, Washington

(Photo via U.S. Army)
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The report did not assign blame, but said recommendations had been made to U.S. Special Operations Command on actions that could be taken against personnel. The top U.S. military official in Africa said that ultimately he was responsible.

"I take ownership for all the events connected to the ambush of 4 October. Again, the responsibility is mine," Marine General Thomas Waldhauser, the head of U.S. Africa Command, said during a Pentagon press briefing.

Even before the U.S. Special Operations Forces Team arrived in Niger, high personnel turnover had prevented the team from carrying out important pre-deployment training as a team, the report found.

Only half of the team had trained together when it arrived in Niger in the fall of 2017.

On Oct. 3, the special forces team, along with partner Niger forces, set out on a mission to target a key Islamic State militant near the village of Tiloa, Niger. The team had not trained for the mission and did not notify higher-level commanders that it would be undertaking it.

While the team mischaracterized this mission, the report did not find a direct link between that and the ambush that killed the four U.S. soldiers.

The top U.S. general said last year that the team was on a reconnaissance mission.

On the way back to its base, after carrying out a separate intelligence gathering mission, the team stopped at the village of Tongo Tongo to resupply. It was then that the U.S. soldiers, along with their Nigerien partners, were ambushed by militants.

The report and a 10-minute video shown to reporters details the gun battle and how at one point U.S. Army Sergeant La David Johnson sought to run away on foot from the militants after he was unable to enter his vehicle. He was ultimately killed 1,000 meters (about 3,300 feet) from the vehicle.

The evidence showed that all four soldiers had been stripped of any serviceable equipment and the militants had made an attempt to take the bodies with them.

Two of the soldiers' bodies were found in the back of a militant's vehicle and one body next to it, said Army Major General Roger Cloutier, who led the investigation into the ambush.

As a result of the October incident, U.S. forces in Africa would now be more "prudent" in carrying out missions and improvements have been made for troops in areas such as firepower and equipment, response times and level of intelligence provided, Waldhauser said. (Reporting by Idrees Ali; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Bill Berkrot)

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MARJA, AFGHANISTAN - SEPTEMBER 29: U.S. Army flight medic SGT Tyrone Jordan (C) of Charlotte, North Carolina and crew chief SGT Charles Winscott of Columbia, Missouri (L) from Dustoff Task Force Shadow of the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade gives first aid to a prisoner after he was shot by Marines during a morning firefight while Marine LCpl. Kristopher Brown of Fayetteville, North Carolina provides security aboard a MEDEVAC helicopter September 29, 2010 near Marja, Afghanistan. Task Force Shadow is responsible for evacuating wounded Afghani and Coalition forces as well as local nationals throughout southern Afghanistan. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN - MARCH 19: Afghan soldiers (L) speak to a local Afghan, while a medic in the U.S. Army's 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry Regiment, Charlie Company (R) monitors a soldier who has just survived a blast from an improvised explosive device (IED) while driving a vehicle during a mission near Command Outpost Pa'in Kalay, on March 19, 2013 in Kandahar Province, Maiwand District, Afghanistan. The soldier suffered a concussion and a sore arm from the blast. The United States military and its allies are in the midst of training and transitioning power to the Afghan National Security Forces in order to withdraw from the country by 2014. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
MARJA, AFGHANISTAN - SEPTEMBER 24: U.S. Army flight medic SGT Tyrone Jordan of Charlotte, NC attached to Dustoff Task Force Shadow of the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade surveys the area for a wounded Marine after jumping out of a MEDEVAC helicopter September 24, 2010 near Marja, Afghanistan. Two Marines were wounded at the location by an improvised explosive device (IED). Task Force Shadow is responsible for evacuating wounded Afghani and Coalition forces as well as local nationals throughout southern Afghanistan. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
US flight medic sergeant Megan Ford from US Army's Task Force Lift 'Dust Off', Charlie Company 1-171 Aviation regiment runs to the medevac helicopter to fly on a mission to airlift a severely wounded elderly Afghan man who was shot in the face in Helmand province on November 6, 2011. The United Nations says the number of civilians killed in the Afghanistan war in the first half of this year rose 15 percent to 1,462, with insurgents behind 80 percent. AFP PHOTO/BEHROUZ MEHRI (Photo credit should read BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images)
US military medics treat a mock victim in a tent during a joint medical evacuatioin exercise as part of the annual massive military exercises, known as Key Resolve and Foal Eagle, at a South Korean Army hospital in Goyang, northwest of Seoul, on March 15, 2017. South Korea and the United States kicked off their annual, massive military exercises on March 1 as North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un ordered his troops to prepare for a 'merciless strike' against the enemy forces. / AFP PHOTO / JUNG Yeon-Je (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN - MARCH 19: A medic in the U.S. Army's 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry Regiment, Charlie Company (R) tends to a soldier who has just survived a blast from an improvised explosive device (IED) while driving a vehicle during a mission near Command Outpost Pa'in Kalay, on March 19, 2013 in Kandahar Province, Maiwand District, Afghanistan. The soldier suffered a concussion from the blast. The United States military and its allies are in the midst of training and transitioning power to the Afghan National Security Forces in order to withdraw from the country by 2014. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
BAGHRAM AIR FIELD, AFGHANISTAN - SEPTEMBER 10: U.S. Army medics load an injured American soldier onto an Air Force jet for evacuation to Landstuhl, Germany on September 10, 2005 from Baghram Air Field, Afghanistan. American casualties in Afghanistan are first treated in the field, then usually moved to the combat hospital in Baghram for further treatment before then being evacuated on flights to Germany and then the United States. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
BANDA ACEH, INDONESIA: A US medic (L) waits to board a US Seahawk helicopter as other soldiers to load relief goods into the helicopter en route for a relief mission in the remote areas of the Aceh province at the military airport in Banda Aceh, 14 January 2005. The United Nations urged Indonesia not to impose a deadline on foreign troops providing relief assistance in tsunami-hit Aceh province, while the US President George W. Bush predicted that US aid would help defeat Islamic extremists. The armed forces of Australia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and the United States all rushed units to Aceh in the wake of the December 26 tsunami disaster which killed more than 110,000 Indonesians out of a total of over 163,000 deaths around Asia. AFP PHOTO/Jewel SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
402462 10: United States and Canadian Army medics render first aid to an American soldier, who fainted due to altitude sickness, during search and destroy operations against Taliban and al-Qaida fighters March 15, 2002 in the rugged Shah-e-Kot mountains, 25 kilometers (15 miles) southeast of Gardez, Afghanistan. Hundreds of American and Canadian troops were lifted into the mountainous region at high altitude to search for and destroy any enemy they encounter. (Pool Photo/Getty Images)
MARJA, AFGHANISTAN - SEPTEMBER 30: Members of the medical staff at the 31st Combat Support Hospital (CSH) remove Nawa District Governor Abdul Manaf from a MEDEVAC helicopter after he was airlifted to the hospital suffering from chest pains September 30, 2010 near Marja, Afghanistan. The 31st CSH is responsible for treating wounded Afghani and Coalition forces as well as local nationals in Helmand Province. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
MARJA, AFGHANISTAN - SEPTEMBER 29: U.S. Army flight medic SGT Tyrone Jordan (R) of Charlotte, NC of Dustoff Task Force Shadow of the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade helps Marines carry a wounded Afghani man to a MEDEVAC helicopter September 29, 2010 near Marja, Afghanistan. The man had been shot by the Marines during a morning firefight. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
MARJA, AFGHANISTAN - SEPTEMBER 29: U.S. Army flight medic SGT Tyrone Jordan (C) of Charlotte, North Carolina, from Dustoff Task Force Shadow from the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade gives first aid to a prisoner after he was shot by Marines during a morning firefight as Marine LCpl. Kristopher Brown of Fayetteville, North Carolina guards him aboard a MEDEVAC helicopter September 29, 2010 near Marja, Afghanistan. Task Force Shadow is responsible for evacuating wounded Afghani and Coalition forces as well as local nationals throughout southern Afghanistan. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
MARJA, AFGHANISTAN - SEPTEMBER 24: A U.S. Marine comforts a fellow soldier before he lifts off in a MEDEVAC helicopter September 24, 2010 near Marja, Afghanistan. The Marine was wounded by an improvised explosive device (IED) while on patrol. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
MARJA, AFGHANISTAN - SEPTEMBER 23: MEDEVAC helicopter crew chief Thomas Burns (L) of Orange City, FL listens for instructions from flight medic SGT Adam Montavon of Sterling, IL as they try to save the life of a severely wounded Marine aboard a MEDEVAC helicopter September 23, 2010 near Marja, Afghanistan. The Marine later died of his injuries. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
MARJA, AFGHANISTAN - SEPTEMBER 23: U.S. Marines help flight medic SGT Adam Montavon (C) of Sterling, IL carry an injured Afghani man to a MEDEVAC helicopter September 23, 2010 near Marja, Afghanistan. The man came to the Marine base seeking help after he was injured in a motorcycle accident. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
MARJA, AFGHANISTAN - SEPTEMBER 20: A 12-year-old Afghani girl is carried to a MEDEVAC helicopter September 20, 2010 near Marja, Afghanistan. The girl had been grazed in the face by a bullet. Task Force Shadow is responsible for evacuating wounded Afghani and Coalition forces as well as local nationals throughout southern Afghanistan. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
MARJA, AFGHANISTAN - SEPTEMBER 21: Medical staff from the U.S. Army's 31st Combat Support Hospital unload an enemy prisoner of war from a MEDEVAC helicopter after he was shot in the leg September 21, 2010 near Marja, Afghanistan. The 31st Combat Support Hospital provides level three trauma care at Camp Dwyer in Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
MARJA, AFGHANISTAN - SEPTEMBER 18: U.S. Marine LCpl. Joshua Bailes (L) of Mogadore, OH with 2nd BN 4th Marines and U.S. Army medic SGT Tyrone Jordan of Charlotte, NC attached to Dustoff Task Force Shadow of the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade climb into a MEDEVAC helicopter after loading a wounded enemy prisoner of war September 18, 2010 near Marja, Afghanistan. The POW had been shot in both of his legs. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
MARJA, AFGHANISTAN - SEPTEMBER 17: British solders load a wounded Afghanistan National Police (ANP) officer onto a MEDEVAC helicopter September 17, 2010 near Marja, Afghanistan. The policeman was wounded along with two other police officers in an improvised explosive device (IED) attack. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
KHOST, AFGHANISTAN - NOVEMBER 22: Members of the medical team from the 452nd Combat Support Hospital work on a wounded American soldier in the trauma unit at Sunday Olawande Memorial Hospital on forward operating base Salerno November 22, 2009 in Khost, Afghanistan. The soldier was one of two brought in by helicopter with shrapnel injuries from indirect fire. The 452nd is made up mostly of reservists from Minnesota and Wisconsin. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
KHOST, AFGHANISTAN - NOVEMBER 22: Members of the medical team from the 452nd Combat Support Hospital prepare to do a CT scan on a wounded American soldier in the trauma unit at Sunday Olawande Memorial Hospital on forward operating base Salerno November 22, 2009 in Khost, Afghanistan. The soldier was one of two brought in by helicopter with shrapnel injuries from indirect fire. The 452nd is made up mostly of reservists from Minnesota and Wisconsin. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
KHOST, AFGHANISTAN - NOVEMBER 22: Members of the medical team from the 452nd Combat Support Hospital offload a wounded American soldier from a helicopter outside Sunday Olawande Memorial Hospital on forward operating base Salerno November 22, 2009 in Khost, Afghanistan. The soldier was one of two brought in with shrapnel injuries from indirect fire. The 452nd is made up mostly of reservists from Minnesota and Wisconsin. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
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