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Pentagon Outlines Missteps That Led To Ambush Of U.S. Troops In Niger


After four U.S. soldiers were killed in an ambush in Niger last October, even top members of the military had questions about exactly what had happened. Here's General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, laying out some of those questions to reporters.


JOSEPH DUNFORD: Did the mission of U.S. forces change during the operation? Did our forces have adequate intelligence, equipment and training? Was the pre-mission assessment of the threat in the area accurate?

MARTIN: The Pentagon has now completed its report looking into the incident and has sent that classified version to Congress. Military officers have started briefing the families of the soldiers who died. Some details of this report are starting to leak out. Reporters from The Wall Street Journal had this report described to them by officials familiar with its contents. It says poor training, complacency and a culture of excessive risk contributed to the deaths of the soldiers. Retired Army Brigadier General Donald Bolduc led Special Operations Command in Africa, and like some of the men killed in Niger, he was a Green Beret. When I spoke with him earlier, he said he's surprised at the report's findings.

DONALD BOLDUC: We all know each other. We know our levels of training. I don't believe any of them are complacent. And, certainly, they take risks, but they take risks commensurate with the resources that we have available. That doesn't preclude that somebody might make a bad decision. But bottom line is it's really lack of resources, and that's not the guys' fault. We ask them to do very difficult things in an environment that requires more resources.

MARTIN: Understanding that you can always use more resources, but, according to The Journal's account of this report, low-level commanders actually were so intent on handicapping jihadi groups in some way they disregarded protocol to get operations approved. So it's not just about resources. They broke the rules.

BOLDUC: They did break the rules, and they should be held accountable if that's what happened. But I can tell you, in thousands of missions that have been done in Africa, this is the first time that that's happened. So you've got to look at how these units have operated in a much larger perspective before you start, you know, crucifying the entire organization and leveling, you know, these kind of lack of training, complacency and an environment that accepts too much risk. I don't think that's fair to the guys that we asked do the mission, both civilian and military on the continent. What I do believe is that they're not resourced properly, and they have a mission and they're going to use their imagination, creativity and initiative to do it. And, you know, they're inexperience at times may lead them to make the wrong choice. But, you know, we have to take care of that as senior leaders.

MARTIN: Understood. And you're saying there should be accountability, and ultimately it is the senior commanders' responsibility. According to the report, the reading of it anyway, to The Journal, no one's going to be recommended for firing. Do you think that's the right move?

BOLDUC: Well, I think that people need to be held accountable. I think what we've seen, at least, what I've seen in Afghanistan and other places, is that we blame the lower guys and we don't hold the senior officers accountable. And I put myself in that category, as well. Any time that there was an investigation required, any command that I had, you can ask any of my guys, the buck stopped with me. I was the first person they were going to hold accountable, and then we'll go from there.

MARTIN: As you know that the culture of a command emanates from the top, the commander sets the culture, do you think as a result of the revelations laid out in this report that the Special Operations commander currently should be held accountable?

BOLDUC: Well, bottom line is, I do not think that training, complacency and a culture of excessive risk was at fault here. I think perhaps lower commanders made decisions they shouldn't have made. They should be held accountable. But I also think that higher commanders should be held accountable for the lack of resources year, after year, after year, and the types of missions that we're telling our guys to do, the type of risk that we're putting them in and then, you know, when something goes bad - which we knew something was going to go bad, you know, sooner or later - that we're just going to blame the lower echelons when this is a much broader problem than looking at the operational detachment on the ground.

MARTIN: Retired Army Brigadier General Donald Bolduc, he led Special Operations Command in Africa. Thank you so much for your time.

BOLDUC: God bless you. And my thoughts go out to the families. This is going to be a tough week for them, and I wish them the best, and God bless them all. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.