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Missing US commando found dead in Niger desert 2 days after deadly ambush

W.J. Hennigan, Tribune Washington Bureau on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- After an intense two-day search, local military forces Friday recovered the body of a U.S. Army commando who was inadvertently left behind after a daylight ambush by militants killed three other Green Berets in a rugged border region in Niger.

Pentagon officials had not previously announced that a Green Beret was missing in action after the surprise attack on a joint patrol of U.S. commandos and Nigerien troops Wednesday. Six of the 12 Americans on the patrol were killed or wounded.

Officials hoped the missing U.S. Army Special Forces operative might still be hiding in the dense brush, rather than taken captive, and launched a massive search-and-rescue mission with aerial drones and other aircraft, as well as Nigerien ground forces.

The death of four Green Berets in remote West Africa marks the worst single loss of U.S. forces under fire since President Donald Trump took office. The president was briefed on the search and the discovery of the body, officials said.

The casualties came as a heavy blow to the insular special operations community that increasingly shoulders the burden of America's counterterrorism operations overseas. The four fatalities, as well as two wounded Green Berets, were in the 3rd Special Forces Group based in Fort Bragg, N.C.

The Pentagon identified the first three fatalities as Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black, 35, of Puyallup, Wash.; Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, 39, of Springboro, Ohio; and Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright, 29, of Lyons, Ga.

 

Officials did not release the name of the Green Beret whose body was found Friday. It wasn't immediately clear if he was killed in the firefight or died later.

According to the Pentagon, the Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha, otherwise known as an "A-Team," went on a routine patrol Wednesday afternoon with about 20 troops from the Niger Armed Forces when they came under heavy fire.

Officials said a barrage of machine gun fire and rocket-propelled grenades from about 50 militants forced the U.S. and Nigerien troops into defensive positions near the border with Mali. The fire peppered the troops' trucks and shattered windows before they could regroup and fire back.

The soldiers called in support from French attack helicopters and fighter jets. It's not clear whether the aircraft fired.

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