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4 soldiers killed in ambush: Where is Niger and what are U.S. troops doing there?

Published: Friday, October 20, 2017 @ 11:43 AM

4 Soldiers Killed In Ambush In Niger

Questions remain in the aftermath of an ambush attack on a group including U.S. Army soldiers in Niger that left four American service members dead on Oct. 4.

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Defense Department officials said Staff Sgt. Bryan Black, 35, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson, 39, Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright, 29 and Sgt. La David Johnson, 25, were killed in an attack during an advise-and-assist mission in southwestern Niger.

The circumstances that led to the attack remain under investigation.

The American military operation in Niger is one of about 20 in Africa and part of the U.S. Africa Command, according to NPR. The command is aimed at building military relations with African nations and other key players in the region. It began operations in 2007.

Here is what we know about Niger and U.S. military presence in the country:

Where is Niger?

Niger is a landlocked country in western Africa, bordered by Chad, Nigeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali, Algeria and Libya.

The country became independent from France in 1960. Political instability and a series of military coups followed.

Is Niger generally safe for Americans?

The U.S. State Department in April issued a warning for Americans traveling in Niger to stay away from “locations frequented by Westerners” and to keep to hotels with armed Nigerien security officers because of the risk of terror attacks and kidnapping threats against Westerners.

“Niger’s southeastern border with Nigeria and east of Maradi are poorly controlled,” State Department officials said. “Boko Haram and several factions affiliated with ISIS have conducted cross-border attacks into Niger. The government of Niger has increased its security forces in the border areas, but the situation remains unstable and travel is not advised.”

What about for soldiers – is it generally safe?

Despite the threat of violence, officials said the Oct. 4 deaths were the first American service members to be killed in combat in Niger.

“I think clearly there's risk for our forces in Niger,” said Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, the director of the Joint Staff. “Any time we deploy full forces globally, we will look very hard at the enablers that need to be in place in order to provide security for them. And that ranges from the ability to pull them out if they are injured, to the ability to reinforce them at the point of a fight if they … need reinforcement. We look at all those things and evaluate on a continual basis.”

How big is the American military presence there?

Officials with the Defense Department said this month that about 1,000 troops in the region work with about 4,000 French service members. The U.S. military has had some presence in the country since 2012, according to CNN.

What are U.S. soldiers doing there?

Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said U.S. armed forces have been working for years with West African nations to combat the threat of terrorism.

The Army soldiers killed in the Oct. 4 attack were assisting with Nigerien security force counterterrorism operations about 125 miles north of Niamey, the country’s capitol city, according to thee Defense Department.

“We’re providing refueling support, intelligence support, surveillance support,” Defense Secretary James Mattis said. “But also we have troops on the ground. Their job is to help the people in the region learn how to defend themselves. We call it foreign internal defense training, and we actually do these kinds of missions by, with and through our allies.”

Reports: President Trump to Widow of Fallen Soldier, He Knew "What He Signed Up For"

U.S. Navy aircraft with 11 on board crashes into Pacific: Live updates

Published: Thursday, November 23, 2017 @ 8:09 PM
Updated: Saturday, November 25, 2017 @ 12:29 PM

U.S. Navy Aircraft Crashed into Pacific with 11 On Board

A U.S. Navy aircraft with 11 people on board has crashed into the Pacific Ocean, officials said Wednesday.

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Air Force pilot killed, 1 injured in crash near Texas’ Laughlin Air Force Base

Published: Tuesday, November 21, 2017 @ 9:53 AM

Lt. Col. Thomas Allen, 87th Flying Training Squadron commander, lands a T-38C Talon after a formation flight at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas, Aug. 18, 2017. The T-38 is the training aircraft used to teach student pilots the basics of flying. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Benjamin N. Valmoja)
Airman 1st Class Benjamin Valmoj/47th Flying Training Wing Public
Lt. Col. Thomas Allen, 87th Flying Training Squadron commander, lands a T-38C Talon after a formation flight at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas, Aug. 18, 2017. The T-38 is the training aircraft used to teach student pilots the basics of flying. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Benjamin N. Valmoja)(Airman 1st Class Benjamin Valmoj/47th Flying Training Wing Public)

One pilot died and another was injured Monday when an Air Force T-38 Talon crashed in Del Rio, Texas, according to officials.

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The T-38 crashed around 4 p.m. about 14 miles northwest of Laughlin Air Force Base, where the jet was assigned, base officials said.

Authorities did not immediately identify the pilots, citing the need to notify their families.

According to Air Force officials, “the T-38 is the training aircraft used to teach student pilots the basics of flying.”

>> Related: Veteran laid to rest with military honors thanks to kindness of strangers

The circumstances surrounding the crash were not immediately clear. Base officials said a board of officers will investigate the crash.

“Our biggest priority at this time is caring for the family and friends of our Airmen,” Col. Michelle Pryor, 47th Flying Training Wing vice commander, said in a news release. “We are a close-knit family, and when a tragedy like this occurs every member of the U.S. Armed Forces feels it. Our people take top priority, and we are committed to ensuring their safety and security."

Navy plans operation pause, calls for review of collisions in the Pacific

Published: Monday, August 21, 2017 @ 11:45 AM

Damage to the portside is visible as the Guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) steers towards Changi naval base in Singapore following a collision with the merchant vessel Alnic MC Monday, Aug. 21, 2017. The USS John S. McCain was docked at Singapore's naval base with
Damage to the portside is visible as the Guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) steers towards Changi naval base in Singapore following a collision with the merchant vessel Alnic MC Monday, Aug. 21, 2017. The USS John S. McCain was docked at Singapore's naval base with "significant damage" to its hull after an early morning collision with the Alnic MC as vessels from several nations searched Monday for missing U.S. sailors. (Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Joshua Fulton/U.S. Navy photo via AP)(Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Joshua Fulton/AP)

The U.S. Navy will take a one-day operational pause in the coming weeks to “ensure we are taking all appropriate immediate measure to enhance the Navy’s safe and effective operation around the world,” Navy Adm. John Richardson, who is chief of naval operations, said on Monday.

The pause was announced on the same day officials said they were launching a broad investigation into the Pacific fleet in light of recent accidents, including Monday morning’s collision between the USS John S. McCain and a merchant ship in the waters of Southeast Asia.

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Ten sailors remained missing Monday, hours after the USS John S. McCain, a guided missile destroyer, and the 600-foot Alnic MC collided off the coast of Singapore, Navy officials said. Five other sailors were injured.

A search for the missing sailors was ongoing Monday.

"This is the second major collision in the last three months, and is the latest in a series of major incidents, particularly in the Pacific theater,” Richardson said in a video statement released Monday. “This trend demands more forceful action.”

The USS John S. McCain, named for Republican Sen. John McCain’s father and grandfather, who were both Navy admirals, was pulled on Monday evening to Changi Naval Base in Singapore. The crash left the ship with significant hull damage, allowing water to flood into nearby compartments, naval officials said.

“I don't want to speculate how the incident happened, but this area -- it's a busy area, considering the two vessels are about to enter the traffic separation scheme,” said Adm. Datuk Zulkifili Abu Bakarthe, head of the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency, according to The Navy Times.

The newspaper reported that about 80,000 vessels travel the strait each year.

>> Related: 10 sailors missing after USS John S. McCain collides with tanker

A defense official told The Associated Press earlier Monday that Richardson directed Adm. Phil Davidson, head of the Navy’s Fleet Forces, to lead the investigation.

The unnamed official told the AP that “Richardson wants to ensure there aren’t bigger problems that may be masked by the high pace of ship operations in the Pacific region.”

Richardson said the investigation would include “trends in operational tempo, performance, maintenance, equipment and personnel,” along with “surface warfare training and career development, including tactical and navigational proficiency.”

Monday’s crash was the second major collision involving a U.S. Navy warship from the 7th Fleet in two months, according to The Navy Times. It is the fourth accident involving a naval vessel in the Pacific this year, according to The Washington Post.

Seven sailors died and three others were injured on June 17 when a merchant vessel and the USS Fitzgerald collided in the Philippine Sea, about 56 nautical miles southwest of Yokosuka, Japan. Officials determined that the collision was avoidable and dismissed the ship’s commanding officer, executive officer and command master chief after the crash.

Bringing Tiny home: Remains of WWII hero arrive in Florida

Published: Wednesday, November 08, 2017 @ 4:19 PM

The remains of US Army Sgt. Richard Sowell are moved to a hearse by the US Army Honor Guard after arriving at PBIA Wednesday, November 8, 2017. “Tiny” Sowell’s buddies saw the popular Palm Beach High grad be blown to bits by Japanese explosives on Saipan, but they couldn’t get to his mangled body to bring him home. It would take seven decades, and 21st century technology, and a persistent nephew, but Tiny finally is coming home.
Lannis Waters/The Palm Beach Post
The remains of US Army Sgt. Richard Sowell are moved to a hearse by the US Army Honor Guard after arriving at PBIA Wednesday, November 8, 2017. “Tiny” Sowell’s buddies saw the popular Palm Beach High grad be blown to bits by Japanese explosives on Saipan, but they couldn’t get to his mangled body to bring him home. It would take seven decades, and 21st century technology, and a persistent nephew, but Tiny finally is coming home.(Lannis Waters/The Palm Beach Post)

Tiny came home Wednesday, three-quarters of a century after he left, bearing the same grin that made him a darling of Palm Beach High’s Class of 1941 and filled with ardor to save the world — or die trying.

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Which is what U.S. Army Sgt. Richard Gordon Sowell did, fighting in the Pacific in 1944.

With the military unable to make a firm identification of his shattered remains, they laid him in a numbered grave with those of others until authorities used 21st-century technology to make a match. And finally send him home.

He will be buried at 11 a.m. Friday— the day before Veterans Day — in a family plot at Woodlawn Cemetery in West Palm Beach.