Five Months After Ambush, US Troops in Niger Still Don't Get Danger Pay

U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers observe as Nigerien service members fire their weapons with the assistance of Illumination rounds during Exercise Flintlock 2017 in Diffa, Niger, March 9, 2017 (U.S. Army/Spc. Zayid Ballesteros)
U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers observe as Nigerien service members fire their weapons with the assistance of Illumination rounds during Exercise Flintlock 2017 in Diffa, Niger, March 9, 2017 (U.S. Army/Spc. Zayid Ballesteros)

Marine Gen. Thomas Waldhauser told Congress on Tuesday that more than 800 U.S. troops in Niger still don't receive imminent-danger pay (IDP) five months after the ambush near the village of Tongo Tongo that killed four members of the Army's Third Special Forces Group.

"We have made that request a while back" to give IDP to U.S. troops in Niger, but the request has yet to be approved by the White House Office of Management and Budget, Waldhauser, commander of U.S. Africa Command, said at a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee.

"The short answer is 'Yes,' we have submitted that request," Waldhauser said in testimony. At the hearing, he declined to comment on the investigation of the ambush, but stressed that U.S. commitments to stop the spread of terrorism in Africa are worth risking the lives of U.S. troops.

Waldhauser said U.S. troops in Somalia and other areas of Africa currently receive IDP, but Niger has yet to be designated as an IDP area.

Defense Department regulations stipulate that troops assigned to a designated IDP area can receive $7.50 in extra pay for each day they are on duty in the IDP area up to $225 per month.

He said the Article 15-6 fact-finding investigation of the ambush led by his chief of staff, Army Maj. Gen. Roger Cloutier, has been completed and sent to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis for his approval.

"The investigation was exhaustive" and "very, very detailed," Waldhauser said.

"I have reviewed the investigation and signed off on the investigation," he said, without giving specifics on the findings.

The investigation report includes an "animated video" prepared by AfriCom to illustrate the patrol and the firefight in which the four U.S. troops were killed, Waldhauser said.

He gave no timeline for the release of the report but said that once Mattis signs off, the families of the four troops killed will receive a "detailed and comprehensive" briefing on the findings.

The family briefings could take several weeks, he said.

A classified version of the report is then expected to go to Congress before a redacted version is released to the public. Waldhauser also pledged to testify again before the committee on the findings.

His testimony took on added drama with the release Monday by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria of a video laced with propaganda, including graphic head camera footage taken from one of the slain U.S. troops.

Several news outlets linked to edited versions of the video despite warnings from the Pentagon and AfriCom. Military.com has not posted or linked to the video.

In a statement Monday, AfriCom said, "The release of these materials demonstrates the depravity of the enemy we are fighting. We encourage the news media to deny ISIS a propaganda success by not purchasing, showing or bringing undue attention to these images as it re-victimizes the affected families, amplifies IS atrocities and aids in their recruiting."

Following initial reports of the ambush, AfriCom began an Article 15-6 fact-finding investigation of what was to have been a routine training patrol with no contact expected last Oct. 3-4 of 11 troops from the Army's Third Special Forces Group, along with about 30 Nigerien troops.

In addition to the Article 15-6 investigation, the FBI conducted its own review of the national security implications of the ambush that killed Sgt. La David Johnson, 25, of Miami Gardens, Florida; Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black, 35, of Puyallup, Washington; Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, 39, of Springboro, Ohio; and Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright, 29, of Lyons, Georgia.

Last month, The New York Times published a detailed and lengthy account of the patrol, partly based on forensic analysis of the video. The Times described the action in the video but withheld posting it or linking to it.

The Times report at the time said that AfriCom poorly planned the joint patrol and then changed the mission three times while it was underway. However, a new report from The Associated Press found the mission was apparently clear from the beginning -- the troops were tasked with hunting down the militant leader Doundou Chefou -- but lacked senior oversight and approval.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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