Multiple Failures Led To Troops' Deaths In Niger, Pentagon Report Says

May 11, 2018
Originally published on May 11, 2018 6:39 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The Pentagon has released the results of its investigation into the deaths of four U.S. soldiers in the West African nation of Niger last fall. They were ambushed by ISIS fighters outside a remote village. The investigation found, quote, "individual, organizational and institutional failures," but it said there was no one single reason for this tragedy. This is Marine Corps General Thomas Waldhauser, head of U.S.-Africa Command.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

THOMAS WALDHAUSER: I take ownership for all the events connected to the ambush of 4 October. Again, the responsibility is mine.

GREENE: Let's turn now to retired Army Brigadier General Donald Bolduc. He led special operations command in Africa. And like some of the men killed in this incident, he was a Green Beret.

General, welcome to the program.

DONALD BOLDUC: Well, thank you, David. It's great to be on the program.

GREENE: Could you help me understand this investigation? We're told there was no sole reason for this happening. But yet, the investigation says U.S. forces were outgunned. It seemed like maybe more firepower was needed, drones overhead to prevent this. Those sound like pretty clear reasons.

BOLDUC: Yes, there are definite reasons for the incident occurring. And I think it all comes down to a lack of resources being provided not only for this mission but for the conduct of missions in the African continent operational environment as a whole.

GREENE: So that's - you see a sole reason. I mean, it's - you would disagree with the report saying there's no (laughter) specific reason for this.

BOLDUC: Yes, I would disagree with the report. And I would also disagree with the directive that I have read - has come to fruition, which is only going to leave the violent extremist organizations with opportunity and time to make the environment - and will make the environment more dangerous. It also will result in our partners not being able to set conditions for security gains. This will create an environment in which the root causes of instability will never get addressed, and that is basically poor local governance and socioeconomic development. And as you know, an unstable Africa really affects Europe, Middle East, Levant and South America. So there's a lot at stake here with instability in Africa.

GREENE: I just want to make sure I understand what you're saying. I know General Waldhauser, when he was talking yesterday about ongoing operations, he said that they're now going to be more prudent in their missions. Are you saying you're concerned that fewer missions might allow terrorism and extremism to spread more?

BOLDUC: Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying. I commanded that unit for 26 months. And I was - and it wasn't that long ago. And I spent another 20 months in the AFRICOM command as the deputy J3. So I know that the missions that we're doing are prudent. I know what went into getting us on the ground doing the things that we were doing, and they're very prudent.

The problem is lack of resources. The problem is the experience gap with general officers and flag officers. All great guys, but, you know, they just don't have experience in Africa on the ground. So they really don't understand the risks involved, and this creates higher risk. This creates delays in decisions. It creates under-resourcing. It creates all those problems around validating and justifying the resources our guys need for what they're being asked to do.

GREENE: All right. So it sounds like you're saying give them more resources. Don't hold back on the missions. Sadly, that's all the time we have, but lots more to talk about. Retired Army Brigadier General Donald Bolduc led special operations command in Africa.

Thanks so much.

BOLDUC: You're very welcome, sir. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.