Accounts from sources involved in the Nigerian ambush that left four Americans dead earlier this month shed light on what went wrong in the events leading up to the tragedy and paint a glowing picture of deceased Green Beret Sgt. La David Johnson, whom a survivor describes as a “true war hero,” ABC News reported.
Service of honor: Myeshia Johnson receives the flag at the Florida funeral of her husband US Army Sgt. La David Johnson, killed in Niger pic.twitter.com/BstkkXaBZB
— AFP News Agency (@AFP) October 22, 2017
According to the survivor and a senior US intelligence official, the team of 12 Americans and 30 Nigerian soldiers-including Sgt. Johnson–were originally participating in a reconnaissance mission.
That assignment turned into a “kill-or-capture” mission when they were notified of a high-value target in the area. The target, code-named “Naylor Road,” was a “top-three” US target in Nigeria, an individual with ties to both Al-Qaeda and ISIS.
The sudden change in mission called on the elite team to be out for over 24 hours, a risk taken given intelligence’s “high confidence” that the target was within reach.
A second team made up of US Special Forces was given instructions to join Johnson’s group, but were ultimately unable to. Nevertheless, the team of 12 Americans, along with their Nigerian allies, were told to continue.
The target was not to be found when the team arrived at the location in the early morning on October 4, prompting them to dispose of campsite remains and then move south. The Nigerian soldiers asked to stop at the village of Tongo Tongo for food.
The American troops met with a village elder, whose efforts to “stall” the US forces led them to suspect a trap. Their fears were aggravated when they found themselves observed by two motorcyclists, who swiftly drove out of the village when spotted.
The team left Tongo Tongo sometime before noon, and were immediately assaulted by enemy fire from an “ISIS-affiliated” group that a survivor believes was led by the target “Naylor Road” himself.
US and Nigerian forces returned forces but were outnumbered. A source says Sgt. Johnson went “above and beyond” in defense of his fellow soldiers.
“Without a doubt, his courage and bravery in action that day were above and beyond expectation. He died fighting for his brothers on his team. You can quote that verbatim,” the survivor said. “He grabbed any and every weapon available to him. The guy is a true war hero.”
The unit called for help an hour into the combat, with an unarmed drone arriving in a matter of minutes. French fighter jets responded to the team’s calls, although they did not drop bombs due to the risk of friendly fire. Eventually, French Special Forces from Ouagadougou and Green Berets arrived on the scene. The wounded were flown on French helicopters to Niger’s capital, Niamey.
Sgt. Johnson’s body was found on October 6. Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says that Johnson was presumed missing and never left behind. A combination of American, French, and Nigerian troops were on the ground until his body was recovered.
Funeral held for Sgt. La David Johnson, soldier killed in Niger ambush.
— Julie Laumann (@Otpor17) October 21, 2017
The survivor explained: “Until his death was confirmed, every asset was devoted to recovering him. We threw everything we had at it… Literally hundreds of people were focused on getting La David back.”
The other three Americans killed in the ambush were Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black of Puyallup, Washington, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson of Springboro, Ohio, and Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright of Lyons, Georgia. Two soldiers were wounded in the attack.
Staff Sgt Dustin Wright
Staff Sgt Jeremiah Johnson
Staff Sgt Bryan Black
Sgt La David Johnson
The brave heroes who were killed in Niger.🇺🇸 pic.twitter.com/CZnU44obtH
— Ricky Davila (@TheRickyDavila) October 11, 2017