The Pentagon on Thursday provided its most detailed account yet of the disastrous operation in Niger that killed four U.S. soldiers last year, releasing a video that has been shown to Congress and includes drone footage of the recovery of the remains of Sgt. La David Johnson, who was missing for two days.
The 21-minute video includes about 11 minutes of footage that was released May 10 as the Defense Department published an eight-page summary of its months-long investigation by U.S. Africa Command. At the time, the Pentagon withheld the remainder of the video, which already had been declassified and shown to members of Congress.
U.S. troops recovered Johnson’s remains Oct. 6, after they were discovered by Nigerien villagers. Army Maj. Gen. Roger L. Cloutier Jr., who oversaw the investigation, said it is believed that Johnson was found in the approximate location where he was killed. He had been shot as many as 20 times, including at least once in the head, a U.S. military official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the investigation.
The 11-minute video released last week included a re-creation of the ambush and ended with the death of Johnson, after he and two Nigerien soldiers were left alone on the battlefield and forced to flee their vehicle under heavy fire. All three of them were killed, with Johnson pursued 450 meters on his own after the Nigeriens were cut down.
The newly released video, first reported by CNN, includes that video re-creation, as well as an explanation of how the operation came together and more details about its aftermath. At one point, Nigerien soldiers arrived in a rescue force and mistakenly opened fire on U.S. soldiers for 48 seconds. No one was injured, the video states.
The surviving U.S. soldiers escaped through a swamp under fire.
“They wrote short messages to loved ones on personal devices, believing that they would soon be overrun,” the video states, in another detail that was not widely known.
The Pentagon released the video while requesting that the media not publish clips that show Johnson’s remains, even though the drone footage is grainy and recorded at a distance. The Washington Post reviewed the footage and has withheld the last couple of minutes out of respect for Johnson’s family.
The other Americans killed were Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black and Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright. Black and Wright were Special Forces soldiers. The other two were support soldiers assigned to their 3rd Special Forces Group team.