(WFLA) – New information that came to light Friday paints a clearer picture of the deadly ambush in Niger that killed four American soldiers, ABC News reports.
A senior U.S. intelligence source shared new details with the network about how the attack unfolded and said Sgt. La David Johnson, the slain soldier at the center of President Trump’s condolence call controversy, was one of the men who tried to save three soldiers when they were killed by ISIS militants.
According to the official, 12 Americans and 30 Nigerien soldiers were inside three vehicles—two pickup trucks equipped with machine guns and an unarmed land cruiser—on their way to the village of Tongo Tongo when they were ambushed by 50 well-trained ISIS-linked fighters.
Using machine guns, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades, the militants began attacking their convoy, and then the fight intensified.
An unknown number of Americans got out of their vehicles to return the fire, then American and Nigerien troops left the “kill zone” and moved forward 200 yards.
While they were moving, the soldiers in the pickup trucks lost sight of the unarmed land cruiser and were unable to make contact with the vehicle.
“One guy said, we’re not leaving these guys behind,” the official told ABC News.
Two Americans walked back toward the “kill zone” on foot, while others followed them in a pickup truck. Sgt. La David Johnson was on the pickup truck, giving the men cover by firing a machine gun that was mounted on the back of the truck.
The official said the soldiers were unable to locate the land cruiser before it was hit by mortar and gunfire, killing Staff Sgt. Bryan Black, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson, and Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright.
As they continued to fight off the enemy, one of the pickup trucks was disabled.
“They were running,” the official said. “They were being chased and being fired upon.”
According to the official, Sgt. La David Johnson could have been ejected from the pickup truck as it bounced across rough terrain. He was separated from the group, and his body was not located until two days after the attack. His body was given back to Nigerien troops by a village elder who is suspected of stalling the troops before the ambush, ABC News reports.
One hour after Americans called for help, French Mirage jets flew over the battle space, forcing the enemy to cease fire and retreat.
French special forces and two U.S. Army Green Berets arrived from Burkina Faso in helicopters to evacuate the wounded soldiers.
“The French saved our men,” the official said. “Yes, we lost four. But we would have lost everybody if it wasn’t for the French.”
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