The body of Sgt. La David Johnson, one of four U.S. soldiers killed in an ambush by Islamist militants in Niger last month, was found with his arms tied and a gaping wound at the back of his head, according to two villagers, suggesting that he may have been captured and then executed.
Adamou Boubacar, a 23-year-old farmer and trader, said some children tending cattle found the remains of the soldier Oct. 6, two days after the attack outside the remote Niger village of Tongo Tongo, which also left five Nigerien soldiers dead. The children notified him.
When Boubacar went to the location, a bushy area roughly a mile from the ambush site, he saw Johnson’s body lying face down, he said. The back of his head had been smashed by something, possibly a bullet, said Boubacar. The soldier’s wrists were bound with rope, he said, raising the possibility that the militants — whom the Pentagon suspects were affiliated with the Islamic State— seized Johnson during the firefight and held him captive.
The villagers’ accounts come as the Niger operation is under intense scrutiny in the United States, with lawmakers expressing concern that they have received insufficient or conflicting information about what happened. The Pentagon is conducting an investigation into the attack in Niger, where the U.S. military is helping the Nigerien government confront a threat by militants associated with the Islamic State and al-Qaeda.
Boubacar, a resident of Tongo Tongo, said in a phone interview that he informed the village’s chief after seeing Johnson’s body. “His two arms were tied behind his back,” he said. The chief called Nigerien military forces, who dispatched troops to retrieve Johnson’s remains.
The village chief of Tongo Tongo, Mounkaila Alassane, confirmed the account in a separate phone interview.
“The back of his head was a mess, as if they had hit him with something hard, like a hammer,” recalled Alassane, who said he also saw the body. “They took his shoes. He was wearing only socks.”
A U.S. military official with knowledge of the investigation into the ambush acknowledged that Johnson’s body appeared viciously battered but cautioned against reaching any conclusions until the probe is completed.
“When the Americans received Johnson, his hands were not tied,” said the U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter.
The two Tongo Tongo villagers said they also saw the bodies of the three other American soldiers — Staff Sgts. Bryan Black, Jeremiah Johnson and Dustin Wright — who U.S. officials say were killed in action. One was slumped inside the team’s pickup truck, they said. The bodies of the other two were on the ground, one clutching a walkie-talkie, they said.
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SOURCE: The Washington Post, Sudarsan Raghavan