Forces in Niger denied use of armed drone: report

Forces in Niger denied use of armed drone: report

A request by U.S. military officials to send an armed drone near a patrol of Green Berets in Niger before a deadly ambush earlier this month was denied, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

That the request was blocked in the approval process – which goes through the Pentagon, State Department and the Nigerien government – throws into further question whether the Green Berets had adequate cover on the Oct. 4 mission that ended in the deaths of four U.S. soldiers.

Since the ambush, the troops' mission has been revealed to have been potentially more dangerous than U.S. officials initially let on.

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The unit was initially charged with training Nigerien forces. But then the team was told to advise Nigerien quick-reaction forces on a mission to capture or kill a wanted terrorist in the region, the Journal reported.

That operation was called off because of weather conditions. But then another team operating in the area, an elite commando unit, sought the help of the Green Beret team to check out an abandoned terrorist camp.

According to the Journal, that assignment was considered relatively low-risk, and there hadn't been any attacks on U.S. forces in the area in the past year.

But that the U.S. sought to send an armed drone to the area suggests that military officials were aware of a change in the security situation in the country, the Journal reported.

After the Green Beret unit, accompanied by about 30 Nigerien troops, left the abandoned camp on Oct. 4, they began to take fire from militants who U.S. officials suspect to be tied to the Islamic State. That ambush killed four American soldiers and five Nigerien troops.

About an hour after the ambush began, French fighter jets and helicopters arrived to provide cover for the U.S.-Niger team and evacuate them. One U.S. soldier, Sgt. La David Johnson, became separated from the rest of the unit during the firefight. His body was recovered two days later.

The ambush and the circumstances surrounding the unit's mission have stirred controversy back in Washington. President Trump has come under fire for his disputed call with Johnson's widow, and some lawmakers are demanding information about the operation in Niger, including how Johnson became separated from the unit.

The Pentagon is also conducting an investigation into the matter.