- The Washington Times - Monday, February 26, 2018

Pentagon officials are nearing the end of an almost five-month review into the chain of events that led to the deaths of four Army Special Forces soldiers during a military adviser mission in Niger, the Defense Department confirmed Monday.

The review, initiated by Defense Secretary James Mattis in October, is expected to shed light into the ill-fated counterterrorism operation in which Staff Sgts. Bryan Black, Jeremiah Johnson, Dustin Wright and Sgt. La David Johnson were killed by al Qaeda militants in the west African nation.

“We anticipate [the review] is nearly complete,” Pentagon spokesman Col. Rob Manning told reporters, while declining to comment as to when department officials would make public a declassified version of the inquiry.

Neither Mr. Mattis nor top brass at U.S. Africa Command have yet to review the findings on the deadly Oct. 4 mission or sign off on its contents, Col. Manning told reporters at the Pentagon.

Once approved, investigation officials plan to notify the families of the Special Forces soldiers killed on the department’s findings, as well as lawmakers on Capitol Hill before publicly releasing details of the inquiry, Col. Manning said.

The four special operations troops were embedded with a Nigerian unit conducting a counterterrorism patrol near the country’s border with Mali, when the patrol was ambushed by al Qaeda fighters tied to the the terror group’s west African cell, known as al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb or AQIM, headquartered in Mali.

“I don’t care if it’s in the a car accident, in [the Defense Department] we investigate the circumstances surrounding and see how we can address the very questions” surrounding the incident, Mr. Mattis told reporters in October at the onset of the Niger investigation.

News of the Defense Department review on the Niger attack comes as extremist groups such as AQIM have reportedly adopted deadlier and more effective tactics against anti-terrorism forces in the region.

Jihadi groups in western Africa reportedly carried out 358 attacks between January 2012 and October 2017, representing a near-threefold increase compared to the roughly 130 attacks executed by those extremist organizations, according recent analysis conducted by the Washington-based Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

West African terror groups have “developed new tactics to penetrate well-guarded facilities more effectively, and have developed innovative ways to thwart the aviation industry’s security measures,” foundation spokesman Joe Dougherty said in a statement accompanying the report, issued Monday.

“The ease and relative frequency with which groups like al-Shabaab obtain uniforms and official IDs, and a recurring issue of complicit staff, suggests that insider threats may be more pervasive in African than in many other regions,” Mr. Dougherty said.

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