When the United States military deploys its special operations soldiers, whether they’re Green Berets, Rangers, Navy Seals, Delta Force, DEVGRU, or even Air Force Pararescue troops, they’re deploying highly-trained assets that represent hundreds of thousands of dollars of training, the kind of people who can win decisive victories in impossible odds.
That’s why when a group of U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers were cut down in an ambush in Niger, it was such big news, and such a blow to the military.
In response, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, a former Marine who saw combat abroad, is pushing to change the preparations that U.S. Special Operations Command forces receive before deployment. He’s hoping to update the training methods based on the shortfalls exposed by the ambush in Niger.
Last week, Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon that “on the Niger situation,” the Department of Defense was going to make changes on policies surrounding personnel assignments.
He went on to say that one of the things that led to that fateful firefight and the sad outcome for the United States and its Special Operations community was that the troops did not train together extensively enough before being deployed.
He also said that there would be changes to the training requirements as well, although he promised that the United States military would continue to support the French-led trans-Sahel effort in Africa, and would assist in “building our partner nations’ capacity to fight this enemy.”
America’s French allies have been involved in fighting the ‘Islamic State in the Greater Sahara’ in Mali, the same group of fighters that were allegedly responsible for the attack in October, 2017, which left four American soldiers dead.
The United States’ African Command investigated the ambush that occurred in Niger, and found that the joint unit of Army Green Berets and their accompanying Nigerian detachment, known as ‘Team Ouallam,’ simply did not have enough experience operating together in a combat environment.
According to Major Karl Weist, an AFRICOM spokesman, the Niger 15-6 investigation found that, due to high turnover, Team Ouallam was not adept at working together.
The investigation also identified areas where the training simply wasn’t sufficient, such as pre-deployment collective training (training together before deploying to the theatre of operation).
After the Niger report was released to the military, Mattis, along with U.S. Special Operations Command (at the time, led by General Austin S. Miller, a former Delta Force officer who commanded ground troops in Mogadishu) conducted a comprehensive review of their procedures, policies, and training measures.
The point of this review was to come up with ‘corrective’ measures, ways that the training and cross-training could be improved so that more American operators don’t die in a foreign land due to being under-trained.
According to Major Weist, the military will release information concerning their recommendations to fix the issue once Mattis finishes his review of the policies.
Since the ambush, the military has already made changes to the way they operate, including arming drones that were, at the time, only used for collecting reconnaissance information in Niger.
They also began to allocate more aircraft assets for similar missions in the future, ensuring that if they needed it, Green Berets could call air strikes and close air support as appropriate.
Marine General Waldhauser, the current commander of AFRICOM, told reporters in May that, among other improvements they had made to their method of operation, they increased their ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) capacity and improved various response times.
The U.S. Air Force is also close to opening its first base in Niger, which will be on the edge of the Sahara Desert. Surely, that base will allow air support to reach the fight quicker.
Green Berets operate in small, 12-man teams, commonly called A-teams or Operational Detachment Alpha’s (ODA’s).
Because of this, it is important that they have appropriate support, both from any indigenous peoples they work with and from air units.
French forces in Mali are also working to assail terrorists in the region, and they struck at the terrorist force in the region in late August, allegedly killing Mohamed Ag Almouner.
Almouner was a key leader of the local offshoot of the Islamic State, and French forces report that they cut him down near Niger’s border with Mali.
Anything that keeps Green Berets safe and makes them more combat-effective during the Global War on Terror should be applauded. It seems that Mattis has a good idea of how to accomplish both goals.