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Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black, 35, of Puyallup, Wash., left; Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, 39, of Springboro, Ohio; Sgt. La David Johnson of Miami Gardens, Fla.; and Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright, 29, of Lyons, Ga. were killed in an ambush in Niger. Johnson was separated from his team and found dead two days later.

By The Washington Post

NIAMEY, Niger The body of Sgt. soldiers killed in an ambush by Islamist militants in Niger last month, was found with his arms tied and a gaping wound at the back of his head, according to two villagers, suggesting that he may have been captured and then executed.

Adamou Boubacar, a 23 year old farmer and trader, said some children tending cattle found the remains of the soldier Oct. 6, two days after the attack outside the remote Niger village of Tongo Tongo, which also left five Nigerien soldiers dead. The kids notified him.

When Boubacar went to the location, a bushy area roughly a mile from the ambush site, he saw Johnson body lying face down, he said. The back of his head had been smashed by something, possibly a bullet, said Boubacar. The soldier wrists were bound with rope, he said, raising the possibility that the militants whom the Pentagon suspects were affiliated with the Islamic State seized Johnson during the firefight and held him captive.

The villagers accounts come as the Niger operation is under intense scrutiny in the United States, with lawmakers expressing concern that they have received insufficient or conflicting information about what happened. military is helping the Nigerien government confront a threat by militants associated with the Islamic State and al Qaida.

Boubacar, a resident of Tongo Tongo, said in a phone interview that he informed the village chief after seeing Johnson body. two arms were tied behind his back, he said. The chief called Nigerien military forces, who dispatched troops to retrieve Johnson remains.

The village chief of Tongo Tongo, Mounkaila Alassane, confirmed the account in a separate phone interview.

back of his head was a mess, as if they had hit him with something hard, like a hammer, recalled Alassane, who said he also saw the body. took his shoes. He was wearing only socks. military official with knowledge of the investigation into the ambush acknowledged that Johnson body appeared viciously battered but cautioned against reaching any conclusions until the probe is completed. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter.

The two Tongo Tongo villagers said they also saw the bodies of the three other American soldiers Staff Sgts. officials say were killed in action. One was slumped inside the team pickup truck, they said. The bodies of the other two were on the ground, one clutching a walkie talkie, they said.

They were wearing T shirts and boxer shorts, the two men said. It was unclear whether the militants had stripped off their uniforms.

The accounts could help explain why it to took two days to find Johnson body, while the other men remains were retrieved several hours after the battle. military advised her not to view his corpse, a suggestion often made when remains are badly disfigured.

The widow, Myeshia Johnson, has emerged as a prominent figure in the uproar over the Niger attack, accusing President Donald Trump of acting cavalierly about her husband in a condolence call, a charge the White House has denied. She also has complained of receiving little information about what happened to her spouse. military investigators have arrived in this impoverished West African nation to try to determine what happened in the Oct. 4 assault on an 11 member Army Special Forces team and 30 Nigerien troops. Among the questions they are addressing: Were there intelligence lapses? Did the unit have adequate equipment? Was the extremist threat properly assessed before the mission began?

The case has received enormous attention in the United States because of conflicting accounts over whether the soldiers were on a low risk patrol or had changed plans and set out in pursuit of Islamist insurgents. Questions also have been raised about why the team was lightly armed, given the danger in the area.

The Pentagon has said the soldiers were on a routine reconnaissance mission. military rules, American troops in Niger are not supposed to go on combat missions in the country, but they can and assist on missions with local forces where the chance of enemy contact is low.

A senior Nigerien security official said in an interview that the military unit made a critical error by deciding to spend the night along the volatile Mali Niger border. That allowed the militants to surveil the unit and plan the ambush that occurred the following morning outside Tongo Tongo as the team was heading back to their base, he said.

In fact, the official said, the team was initially on a one day mission.

schedule they did was to come back the first day, but they did not, Mohamed Bazoum, Niger interior minister, said in the interview. stayed there. And because they stayed there for all the night, the jihadists were able to target them and follow them.

In an Oct. 23 briefing with journalists, Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, acknowledged that the unit stayed away from its base overnight between Oct. 3 and 4. But he said, think a probably more accurate description than overnight was they caught a couple of hours of sleep after the third and before they completed their mission on the fourth. noted that previous joint patrols in the region had occurred without fatalities. troops in Niger, about a third of whom are Special Forces who take part in the and assist missions.

they taking risks? said Dunford. are. Are they taking risks that are unreasonable or not within their capabilities? I don have any reason to believe that. military officials who have said answers would be provided after a thorough investigation. military official with knowledge of the ambush investigation said that it increasingly appears that the soldiers mission did change after they left their base in the capital, Niamey. military. But bad weather prevented the commandos from reaching the area. The unit continued to search for the militant and his fighters and eventually spent the night on the border, he said.
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