Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is calling out the senior leadership of the Pentagon and Africa Command for placing all of the burden of the ill-fated Niger mission where four Special Operations soldiers were killed on the team leader and the most junior officers and NCOs while absolving the higher command of any blame, despite the evidence to the contrary.
The Special Forces A-Team from the 3rd SFG was ambushed by numerically superior Al-Shabab terrorists who are loyal to the Islamic State. ODA-3312 fought valiantly for five hours but lost four soldiers. Two Green Berets and two support soldiers who were accompanying the A-Team on the mission.
Now, Mattis is ensuring that unlike most goings-on at the Pentagon, that senior leaders are going to be made to pay for the gaffes, regardless of how much they sanitized their own after-action report.
Africa Command (AFRICOM) initially tried to place all of the blame on the Special Forces ODA commander, Captain Michael Perozeni, despite evidence to the contrary. The CYA version of events from Africa Command didn’t stand up to the smell test.
In the largest loss of life for the U.S. military in Africa since the 1993 “Black Hawk Down” mission in Somalia — top military leaders continue to battle over who should be held accountable while continuing to cover their own actions.
Jack Murphy for NEWSREP posted a piece nine months ago that was both highly critical of the sanitized after-action review that changed the story of what exactly the Special Forces team was doing in Niger on the day in question and how the senior officers were totally absolving themselves of any responsibility.
At first, the mission ODA 3212 was conducting was described as a recon mission, then a training mission, and finally they conceded that it was a capture/kill high-value target raid. It seems inevitable that they would be out of touch — the headquarters for Africa Command (AFRICOM) isn’t even in Africa, it is in Germany. For senior military officers, the lesson here will be to institute a deeper level of micromanagement, contrary to the de-centralized manner in which Special Forces is designed to operate. The potential political risk of an unconventional warfare campaign does not level out in the minds of senior officers and politicians. None of them wants another Benghazi on their hands.
The Special Forces team was ambushed in the southwest region of Tongo Tongo, along the Niger-Mali border and 130 miles north of the capital city of Niamey. Tongo Tongo is a hot zone of jihadist activity. Many with ties to al-Qaeda have created the bulk of what is known as al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM).
The Special Operations Command commanded by Army Gen. Tony Thomas, which includes Green Berets, Navy SEALs, and other American Special Operations troops has complained that the SOCOM warriors have been singled out for fault. He has also leveled criticism that Pentagon leaders are protecting United States Africa Command, which oversees missions across the continent.
Thomas sent a memo to Mattis back on October 1st and blamed a bad relations climate between Africa Command and the last commander of American Special Operations in Africa, BG Donald C. Bolduc, as one reason for the failed mission. This was published by the NY Times which said that the internal tensions had “hindered the ability of commanders, at both levels, to understand, communicate, assess and mitigate risk as events transpired” in October 2017.
We highlighted the mitigate risk comment since one of the things that Africa Command put in the initial report was that they blamed the mission failure on “risk-taking, a culture that is deliberately cultivated in Special Operations.” Which is patently ridiculous. Special Operations troops routinely conduct highly sensitive and dangerous missions. The commanders of the SOF teams know the risk that is involved. They are the ones at the tip of the spear.
And yet, CPT Perozeni, the ODA commander, was singled out for having “mischaracterized” the mission to superiors as a trip to meet with tribal leaders, not a counterterrorism effort. Which was completely untrue. Perozeni correctly reported that he did not have the necessary equipment, air support or intelligence to safely and successfully conduct the mission.
But his Battalion Commander LTC David Painter ordered him to continue even though he was in Chad and not even in Niger. Perozeni by all accounts performed very bravely during the five-hour long firefight. He tried to hold things together despite having some totally unreliable host nation troops who mostly cut and ran during the action, leaving the Green Berets alone to slug it out with much heavily armed troops.
Perozeni was wounded in thrown from the back of the truck that he was riding in. His driver SFC Brent Bartels was also wounded in the fighting but still turned around and picked up his commander.
Senior Army officers in a video conference with Mattis last week were incensed at Africa Command and some with Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., for allowing Africa Command, whose leader, Gen. Thomas D. Waldhauser, is also a Marine, to conduct the investigation on itself by appointing General Waldhauser’s own chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Roger L. Cloutier Jr., to conduct the probe.
Gen. Mark A. Milley, the Army chief of staff who has been appointed by the President to be the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs; Mark Esper, the Army secretary; Owen West, the military’s top civilian Special Operations policy official; and Paul C. Ney Jr., the Pentagon general counsel all were present. General Thomas called in from his headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.
Mattis has listened so far and the letter of reprimand for Perozeni has been rescinded. The only senior officer to receive a letter of reprimand thus far is MG Marcus Hicks, the head of Special Operations forces in Africa, who was already planning to retire. LTC Painter was told by General Deedrick that he would be receiving a letter of reprimand.
MAJ Alan Van Saun, Captain Perozeni’s company commander, wasn’t in the country at the time of the ambush, he was home on paternity leave, but was reprimanded by AFRICOM. His reprimand cited insufficient training of his unit, this week received a permanent letter of reprimand which essentially ends his career.
Although the Pentagon will continue their investigation now, General Thomas has decided to set the record straight on the battle. In recent weeks General Thomas flew to Fort Bragg, N.C., where ODA-3312 is stationed, to ensure that the award citations were being prepared for the team members.
While at Fort Bragg, General Thomas asked if SSG Dustin Wright, who was killed trying to rescue a wounded comrade who eventually died, was eligible for the Medal of Honor, the military’s highest award. He has personally interviewed some of the participants, read thru their statements in the after action review and watched the helmet cam video that the soldiers were wearing during the ambush.