U.S. Army Sgt. La David Johnson was found stripped, bound, and shot in the head two days after a fatal early October Islamic State ambush, an anonymous soldier tells CBSNews.
Johnson’s body was reportedly found by local children approximately a mile away from the main ambush site where three other soldiers were killed. Circumstances around the ambush remain murky after nearly a month with an ongoing Pentagon investigation.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford previously indicated the soldiers were part of a 12-man team on an overnight mission deep in the heart of Niger. U.S. troops in Niger are engaged in train, advise, and assist mission for Nigerien security forces.
The team came under fire mid-morning on Oct. 4 by approximately 50 ISIS militants with small arms and rocket-propelled grenades after leaving a nearby village. U.S. and Nigerien forces took fire for approximately one hour before air support was requested.
Johnson was separated from the rest of his unit sometime during the ambush. His teammates are thought to have been killed at the initial ambush site where their bodies were found similarly stripped by a villager who talked to CBSNews. Nigerien, U.S., and French forces searched for Johnson’s body for nearly 48 hours before it was found.
U.S. military investigators suspect Nigerien villagers of selling out the location of the team to the terrorist group and even assisting in helping the ambush set up. Villagers reportedly sought to delay the departure of U.S. soldiers from a meeting while ISIS militants set their trap.
The local village chief was arrested after the attack, indicating his possible complicity, the village mayor Almou Hassane previously told Voice of America.
“The unit stayed a little longer than expected because apparently people were aware that something was going on,” a terrorism expert in Niger told the news source. The soldiers were in the village searching for information on a close associate of an ISIS leader, the expert elaborated.
The ISIS affiliate thought to be responsible is known as the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara and are led by Abu Walid al Sahrawi.
Sahrawi has a long history with militant groups in Mali, and at different times has associations with al-Qaida, running his own militia, and finally pledging allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in May 2015.
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