U.S. military investigators are blaming “contradictory and ambiguous” procedures for a botched special forces operation in Niger that resulted in the deaths of four U.S. soldiers and four Nigerien soldiers last year.
An eight-page summary of the findings released Thursday concluded “no single failure or deficiency was the sole reason” for the October 4, 2017 ambush by Islamic State-linked fighters near the village of Tongo Tongo, about 200 kilometers (125 miles) north of the Nigerien capital Niamey.
Instead, investigators point to a series of missteps, including the failure of the 12-member Army Special Forces team to get approval from senior commanders to join Nigerien forces and go after Doundou Chefou, a high-level IS militant believed to be in the area.
As a result, officials said the team was unable to adequately assess the risks associated with the mission and may not have been properly equipped.
The report also describes in detail how the joint U.S.-Nigerien mission went bad after the convoy stopped to resupply in Tongo Tongo.
According to U.S. investigators, the U.S. and Nigerian troops were quickly attacked by as many as 100 heavily armed, well-trained IS-linked fighters.
U.S. forces immediately contacted their operating base to alert them of the ambush, but did not call for help for another 33 minutes.
Army Sergeant La David Johnson and Staff Sergeants Bryan Black, Jeremiah Johnson and Dustin Wright were killed in the ensuing firefight. Contrary to some earlier media reports and eyewitness accounts, the report says none of the U.S. forces were captured before they were killed, and none of them suffered.
“All four soldiers killed in action sustained wounds that were either immediately fatal or rapidly fatal,” the summary of the report said.
WATCH: Pentagon animation about Niger firefight
About 50 minutes after the U.S. team called for help, French warplanes arrived, and conducted several, low fly-bys to help scare off the IS-linked fighters, giving rescue teams time to move in and evacuate the remaining U.S.-Nigerien forces.
Investigators said they were unable to determine whether the IS-linked fighters got any help from villagers in Tongo Togo.
“There is not enough evidence to conclude that the villagers of Tongo Tongo willingly aided and support them,” according the report summary.
The findings are the results of an investigation that has spanned six months, during which time a team of military investigators examined evidence on the ground, and spoke to 143 witnesses as well as dozens of survivors of the ambush. In all, officials said investigators based their conclusions on thousands of pieces of evidence, as well as on eyewitness accounts.
Family members of the soldiers who were killed and members of Congress have already been briefing on the findings but officials say it could be months before the full report is released to the public.
In the interim, the U.S. Defense Department has ordered commanders to address “systemic issues” with the way missions are planned, authorized and executed.
There are about 7,500 American troops and contractors in Africa, with about 800 in Niger.