The widow of Sgt. LaDavid Johnson is not ready to speak and Congresswoman Frederica Wilson is outraged after the Pentagon stood behind its previous findings in the review of the Niger ambush.
The Miami Gardens army sergeant was one of four men killed on Oct. 4. 2017 when he was left in the woods of Tongo Tongo, Africa to fend off ISIS militants alone. The aftermath has been short of a nightmare for Johnson's family who has many unanswered questions. But instead of answers, the Department of Defense has shut the door on the investigation, bypassed punishing commanding officers and handed out medals of honor.
Wilson called the moved a failure by the acting defense secretary, Patrick Shanahan.
“There is no question that the soldiers who were killed, including my constituent, Sgt. La David Johnson, were sent on a mission without the proper intel or equipment and were woefully unprepared to participate in counterterrorism operations," wrote Wilson in a statement released on Thursday. "Despite widespread evidence of bad decision making across the board, junior officers have been forced to bear the brunt of responsibility, while more senior officials go unscathed and one is in line for a promotion.”
Shanahan announced Thursday that he is satisfied with the U.S. Army’s conclusion in the review of the investigation into the Niger operation, which excluded additional punishment for army personnel. He appointed Gen. Robert Brown in April to analyze what led to the entanglement of the 11-member team, which included Green Berets and support soldiers and 30 Nigeriens, with more than 100 militants.
Shanahan said regardless of what led up to the attack, the men fought valiantly and deserved to be honored.
“Throughout the process, our primary concern has been the families of the fallen. We knew we had to be thorough to ensure the right decisions were made for our service members and provide the opportunity for closure for the families,” Shanahan said in a statement.
During a pre-Memorial Day interview with The Miami Times, Myeshia, wife of Sgt. Johnson and Cowanda Jones-Johnson, her aunt who raised him, said they believed they would get the truth. Every time they have tried to get answers about what happened they have been put off. The family has been told that certain details are classified and recounts of the incident would often fluctuate.
The Pentagon released a redacted summary of their findings in May 2018. The families of the four slain soldiers have been waiting for a final report since then.
“Even after the briefing I was asking questions; they told me they could not give me the answers,” said Myeshia Johnson. “So I was like something is not adding up; something is not right.”
The May 2018 summary revealed that the team had not been properly trained for the mission and it was “mischaracterized” in the documents sent to command staff for approval. The mission should have been preempted by a rehearsal, further planning and a higher level of approval, according to the report.
Sgt. Johnson was separated from the others in the group after they tried to withdraw from the location during the ambush. He ran for cover under the tree until he was overpowered by gunfire. He was found by a village elder two days later, according to Pentagon reports.
The leader of the mission Capt. Michael Perozeni categorized it as trip to meet with tribal elders, which is considered low risk. At the same time, American planes spotted a "key member" of the Islamic group. Lt. Col. David Painter diverted the team to pursue the leader while an air assault force was en route. Bad weather stalled the fleet. In the end, the team of American soldiers and their Nigerien comrades ended up being outnumbered.
Myeshia said she could not understand why her husband was in the line of fire because he was sent as a support officer. Sgt. Johnson was a generator mechanic. She also has questions about the body in the casket returned to the U.S. and buried in Hollywood Memorial Gardens.
Six weeks after his funeral, on Nov. 12, some of her husband's remains were found at the reported scene of his bullet attack on Oct. 4. The Defend of Defense said they will award Sgt. Johnson a silver medal for his sacrifice. Myeshia did not confirm whether she has received the medal.
Closing the box on the investigation also allowed the Pentagon to release a 176-page redacted copy of the final report to the media.
Military investigators interviewed 143 witnesses, including 37 American and Nigerien survivors of the attack. A Nigerien survivor and the Commander of the Nigerien Response Forces walked the investigators step-by-step through the events of the attack. The report and its exhibits consist of more than 6,300 pages of evidence. All of which, Shanahan said, still stands.
The U.S. Special Operations Command held nine people accountable for their roles in the ambush, including the team’s company commander, sergeant major, a warrant officer and a master sergeant.
Capt. Perozeni told his command that the team did not have enough equipment for the impromptu raid on the militants, according to the report. Despite Perozeni’s recommendation, his superior, Lt. Col. Painter ordered the team to carry out the fatal mission. Painter was punished for his involvement, but the New York Times reported that he will be promoted in the "coming months.” Col. Bradley Moses, who also approved the reroute of the team, has remained unpunished.
Wilson said the medal is just salt instead of triage for the surviving families.
"More important, nearly two years after this tragedy, the fallen soldiers’ families are still begging for answers and the Pentagon’s failure to provide them has opened new wounds that a medal of valor or redacted copy of an insufficient investigative report cannot heal," she said.
The Army is only focused on a blame game, Jones-Johnson told The Miami Times in late May.
“There are lot of people who know what the truth is, but everyone is just pointing fingers,” she said. “Everyone is saying, ‘Well you told me to do this.’ It’s a big circle, and nobody can’t tell us what happened to LaDavid.”