On October 4th, 2017, a US Army Special Forces unit, colloquially known as the Green Berets, was ambushed in Niger, near a remote village called Tongo Tongo. Initial loss tallies counted only three deceased, all members of the 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne). However, some new details about the raid reveal something worse.
The small twelve-man Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha was ambushed, along with their supporting units, on the way back to their base from an operation near Tongo Tongo. The assailants, believed to be an ISIS affiliate operating in the area, attacked with small arms, rocket-propelled grenades, and “technicals,” vehicles equipped for warfare. An hour into the firefight, the team requested support, and a UAV was moved into position over the area to provide reconnaissance. Another hour later, two French Mirage jets arrived to provide support to the beleaguered team.
The deceased were identified as Staff Sergeant Jeremiah W Johnson, Staff Sergeant Bryan C Black, and Staff Sergeant Dustin M Wright on October 6th, two days after the ambush. They had been found together and near the remainder of the Special Forces ODA. The same day as the deceased Green Berets were identified, La David Johnson’s body was found, separated from the Special Forces detachment.
After the October 4th ambush, friendly military units stayed in the area searching for Sergeant La David Johnson until his body was found. Units from Niger, France, and the United States remained in the area until the 6th, when his body was recovered.
Rumors ran rampant at the time as to the condition and the finding of the body. Some news outlets reported that the body was found a mile away from the scene of the firefight and that La David Johnson’s body showed signs of having been bound, suggesting that Sergeant Johnson had been captured during combat.
At this point, it would appear that those initial reports were, at least in part, true. Adamou Boubacar, a villager and farmer in the area, told the Washington Post that “his two arms were tied behind his back.” A second, unidentified witness told the Washington Post that the back of Sergeant Johnson’s head “was a mess,” suggesting that he had been hit in the back of the head with a hammer. They also noted that Sergeant Johnson was found without his boots on.
An anonymous tip from a military official suggested to the Washington Post that Sergeant Johnson’s hands were not tied when the American forces in the area received the body, but that the body was battered and showed signs of it plainly. This same official has also cautioned about rushing to judgment while both the military and the Federal Bureau of Investigations have yet to complete their investigations into the incident.
As with many Special Forces Groups, the 3rd Special Forces Group has been involved in the Global War on Terror since the very beginning, fighting extensively in Afghanistan, Central Asia, and Africa. They were involved in the initial invasion of Iraq, securing a key road near Debecka in the North of Iraq, which prevented the Iraqi army from moving into Kurdistan and allowed Kurdish forces to take the oil fields in Kirkuk before the Iraqi military could set them aflame.
In 2008, the 3rd Special Forces Group earned the largest set of citations for a single battle since the Vietnam war, when ten members of ODA 3336 earned Silver Stars for actions during combat in the Shok Valley. Staff Sergeant Robert James Miller, a member of the 3rd Special Forces group, posthumously received the Medal of Honor for his actions in January in the Kunar Province near the Pakistani border.
Sergeant La David Johnson, a paratrooper assigned to the 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne), had joined the US Army in 2014, originally assigned as a wheeled vehicle mechanic. Sergeant La David Johnson’s death gained national attention in recent weeks due to a statement from a congresswoman from Florida concerning perceived disrespect in the President’s condolences to the Johnson family.
Sergeant La David Johnson died in Nigeria, living up to the promise enshrined in the US Army Special Forces motto, “De Oppresso Liber,” which translates as “to liberate the oppressed.” Investigations from the Pentagon and the Federal Bureau of Investigations are ongoing concerning the circumstances around his death. Sergeant Johnson is survived by his pregnant wife and his children, ages two and six.