tv Deadline White House MSNBC October 23, 2017 1:00pm-2:00pm PDT
that happening. >> that's why this is a big issue. >> we're out of time. gabe sherman. that closes out this busy hour for me. i'll see you back here at 11:00 a.m. and at 3:00 p.m. "deadline:white house" starts right now. hi, everyone. it's 4:00 in new york. we're going to begin with breaking news at this hour. amiss d an eight-day firestorm the way the president handled calls to military families, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, the highest ranking military official in this country, general joseph dunford is about to take questions at the pentagon about what went wrong in that ambush that left four american soldiers dead in niger and what u.s. troops are doing there. pentagon correspondent hans nichols is in the pentagon briefing room waiting for that to begin. >> we expect to get some sort of timeline from general dunford. he is coming to the podium.
i'll sit down and we'll listen to general dunford. >> ladies and gentlemen. thanks for the opportunity to speak to you about the recent events in niger which claimed the lives of bryan black, la david johnson, jeremiah johnson and dichustin wright. i begin by offering my sincere condolences to the families. today is the anniversary of the beirut bombing. i want the families of the 241 americans lost that day to know that we'll never forget them. after speaking to secretary mattis this morning, i decided to address you because there's been a lot of speculation about the operation in niger. it's a perception the department of defense has not been forthcoming. i thought it would be helpful to personally clarify to you what we know today and to outline what we hope to find out in the ongoing investigation. secretary mattis will be here,
but as many of you know, he's in asia. our soldiers are operating in niger to build the capacity of local forces to fight violent extremism in the region. as we've seen many times, groups like isis and al qaeda pose a threat to the united states, the american people and our allies. they are a global threat enabled by the flow of foreign fighters, resources and a narrative and they seek to operate where they can exploit weaknesses and local government and local security forces. if you think of those enablers as connective tissue between groups across the globe, our strategy is to cut that tissue, while enabling local security forces to deal with the challenges within their countries and region. we can be proud of our progress to date we have to acknowledge our work is not done, even with the fall of mosul and raqqah. we're at an inflection point, not an end point. tonight i'm going to welcome chief of defense and representatives from 75
different countries to improve the effectiveness of our military network to defeat terrorism. in our discussions over the next day or two, we'll focus on improving information sharing between nations to detect and defeat attacks before they occur and to approve the support we provide to nations provided that -- that are confronted with violent extremism. that's exactly what our forces in niger were doing. the united states military has had forces in niger off and on for more than 20 years. today approximately 800 service members in niger work as part of an international effort led by 4,000 french troops to defeat terrorists in west africa. since 2011 french and u.s. troops have trained a 5,000-person west african force and over 35,000 soldiers from the region to fight terrorists and affiliated with isis, al qaeda and boca haram. let me address the specific events in niger that took place early this month. on the 3rd of october, 12
members of the u.s. special operations task force, accompanied 30 nigerian forces from the capital city to an area near the village of tongo tongo. approximately 85 kilometers to the north was the location of that village. on the 4th of october, u.s. and nigerian forces began moving back south. en route to their operating base the patrol came under attack from approximately 50 enemy using small arms fire, rocket-propelled grenades and technical vehicles. what i want to do now is i want to walk through, for you, the timeline that we have and kind of what i'd categorize as what we know about the incident. earlier in the morning of 3rd october, u.s. forces accompany that nigerian unit on a reconnaissance mission to gather information. the assessment by our leaders on the ground at that time was contact with the enemy was unlikely. midmorning, on october 4th, the patrol began to take fire as they were returning to the
operating base. approximately one hour after taking fire, the team requested support. and within minutes, a remoetsly piloted aircraft arrived overhead. within an hour, french jets arrived on station. and then later that afternoon, french attack helicopters arrived on station in a nigerian quick reaction force arrived in the area where our troops were in contact with the enemy. during the firefight, two u.s. soldiers were wounded and evacuated by french air and that was consistent with the casualty evacuation plan that was in place for this particular operation. three u.s. soldiers who were killed in action were evacuated on the evening of 4 october and at that time, sergeant la david johnson was still missing. on the evening of 6th october, sergeant johnson's body was found and subsequently evacuated. from the time the firefight was initiated until sergeant johnson's body was recovered, french nigerian or u.s. forces remained in that area.
many of you have asked a number of questions and those are all, and many of them are fair questions and we owe you more information. more importantly, we owe the families of fallen more information and that's what the investigation is designed to identify. the questions include, did the mission of u.s. forces change during the operation? did our forces have adequate intelligence, equipment and training? was there a premission assessment of the threat in the area accurate? did u.s. force -- how did u.s. forces become separated during the engagement? specifically sergeant johnson? and why did it take time to find and recover sergeant johnson? these are all fair questions the investigation is designed to identify. what i would say, i hope from this brief overview i've outlined why our forces were in niger, what they were doing at the time of the incident on the 3rd and 4th of october, what we know and the questions that remain that we will work on over the next several weeks as the
investigation unfolds. with that, i'm happy to take your questions. >> thanks very much. we have reported that sergeant johnson's body was found some one mile away from the initial site of contact. is that consistent with the information you have, and is there any assessment at this points too why that was the case? and i have a brief follow-up. >> in this -- this really is for all of you as we ask questions. we feel pretty confident in what took place before this patrol moved out. we know the general route that the patrol took before they came back in. what happened from the time the patrol went out on the operation until the time they returned, there's been a lot of speculation and a lot of reports. that's why i want a base line today what we know and what we don't know. what you're asking is a fair question, but we don't know that definitively right now. what i'm trying to do today is to, and be very candid in what do we know? i'll share with you where i've
seen speculation, and then what are the fundamental questions we're asking. the questions we're asking, this is a very complex situation that they found themselves in. a pretty tough firefight. and what tactical instructions the commander on the scene gave that caused units to maneuver and why they might have been when sergeant johnson's body was found, those are all questions we'll identify during the investigation. and you had a follow-up. >> you are aware, i imagine, that some of the administration, when faced with tough questions about this operation, the information sharing from the operation, have intimated that perhaps members of the press shouldn't ask such tough questions, particularly of people in uniform or recently in uniform. and i'm curious if you have a reaction to that. if you share any of that or take any issue with those questions. >> let me just speak for myself on sharing information with the media. i don't know exactly what you're referring to. i'm not going to benchmark my comments against that.
first and foremost in this particular case, we owe the families as much information as we can find out about what happened. and we owe the american people an explanation of what their men and women were doing at this particular time. and when i say that, i mean men and women in harm's way anywhere in the world. they should know what the mission is and what we're trying to accomplish when we're there. those are all fair questions in my judgment. in other words, that's why we're out here today is to take your questions and provide as much information as we can have. the only thing i'm asking for today is a bit of patience to make sure that what we provide to you, when we provide it, is factual. and the other thing that's also important is, when this information is finally available, the first thing we're going to do is go visit the families in their homes, should they welcome us. and we will have a team go in of experts, and i've done this personally myself several times. a team of expert goes into the family and share with them all the facts that are available as a result of the investigation. and give them an opportunity to ask questions.
and as soon as we're done with that, we'll come back in here and we'll share exactly that same information that we shared with the families. and so when i tell you today, we don't know, it will be a fair answer. we don't know. and i'll tell you everything we do know definitively and i'll tell you what the key elements are of the investigation we hope to find out in the coming weeks. but, again, with regard to being transparent, i think we do owe the families and the american people transparency in incidents like this. >> general, if i could get a quick follow-oup the timeline. you says they didn't call for air support an hour -- until an hour into contact -- >> that's right. >> and then the french came. that would make the arrival of the french 90s minutes, a good two hours after the initial contact with which conflicts with what we've been told. >> the best we know now and so -- when i have a degree of confidence, i'm sharing it. about an hour after the initial contact was made, they requested
support. when they requested support, it took the french aircraft, the french were ready to go in 30 minutes and it took them 30 minutes -- approximately 30 minutes to get on the scene. so from that, i think it's a fair conclusion to say that about two hours after the initial contact was made, the initial french mirages arrived overhead. when they didn't ask for support for that first hour, my judgment would be that that unit thought they could handle the situation without additional support. and so what we'll find out in the investigation exactly why it took an hour for them to call. we shouldn't conclude anything by that one hour. it may very well have been and i've been in these situations myself where you are gronted with enemy contact. you can deal with that contact with the resources that you have and at some point in the firefight, they concluded they needed support and so they called for additional support. the confusion of the 30 minutes, which is always the danger of
coming out and sharing information, right? this is what i'm trying to clear up today. what you were told in the past that the french were there in 30 minutes. they responded within 30 minutes, and they were overhead of this unit within 30 minutes. so that's why the 30 minutes came from and i'm making that claarification. >> you says they were ambushed coming become to their outpost. we were told they were ambushed when leaving the village. >> there's not a discrepancy. when i described it, they are leaving the village. where are they going? they're going back to their operating base. they are moving south. >> is that far from the village? >> i don't have the exact details. the investigation will go out there. these investigations, for those that haven't been involved in the past, there will be people on the ground that will actually go and look at where this took place and measure the distances and get the details and we'll be provided so we can provide the family with detailed graphics of exactly what happened and how
this unfolded. i wouldn't want to talk about numbers and meters from the village. the initial report was the contact they made with the enemy was outside the village, south of the village as they were heading back to their operating base. >> just to be clear, sir. you said they did not call for support until an hour after first contact. that's kind of putting a lot of pressure on those team members so can you say without a shadow of doubt that within that hour they did not try to call out for support? >> look, what i can tell you is the timeline that we have is the first indicator that the unit called for external support was one hour later. now i will tell you, the information i'm providing to you today is the complete information i have available. we may very well find out -- this is the difficulty in addressing these before the investigation is complete. and i'm not -- i tell you what. the one thing i would push back on hard is, i'm not putting any pressure on that unit. i made it very clear that i make
no judgment as to how long it took them to ask for support. i don't know that they thought they needed support prior to that time. i don't know how this attack unfolded or what their initial assessment was of what they were confronted with. i do know that our logs indicate an hour after the contact, approximately, they requested support. and then i talked about the timeline of the french response. that's just what i know right now. i'm not going to tell you that in the investigation we won't find out they attempted to get support and it didn't come. i'm just telling you what i know. everything beyond what i told you would be speculation. >> is there good enough intelligence? do they have enough isr and equipment? general walthauser in his confirmation hearing last year said he's the economy theater. clearly he doesn't have enough. if the french have to come and help out, doesn't that, you know, raise the question -- is there enough american equipment there? number one. and again, secretary mattis says he wants to expand leaning
forward more in africom. can you do that without sending more equipment isr over there. >> fair question. and i think i would distinguish between what does the commander africom need to do the full range of nations he believes need to be done, and what missions are being done with the equipment available? i would tell you that general walthauser may need more capability to do more mission or more expansive mission, the responsibility of commanders is to employ the force within the resources that they have available. so we shouldn't confuse the need for more capability to expand the mission with what capabilities are provided to a particular unit at a particular time if you understand the distinction i'm trying to make. >> a particular question that still needs to be answered -- >> absolutely. there's two reasons to do the investigation. one reason is to make sure that we inform the families, the american people and the congress, of course.
the second, every time something like this happens, we doon internal look at ourselves and find out what is it that we did? what could we do better? and then make changes based on what i would consider an after-action review. so that's fair. >> the other issue there are some in african command and some here in the pentagon that think the special forces are taking too many risks over there. >> yeah, tom, i think that would be speculation. here's what i'm very clear on. i'm very clear on the frahmwork within which this operation took place. what do their orders say? i don't have any indication right now to believe or to know that they did anything other than operate within the orders that they were given. that's what the investigation is all about. so i think anyone that speculates about what special operation forces did or didn't do is doing exactly that. they are speculating. >> in general, special operators in africa, are maybe taking too many risks. that's the sense of some in this building and also in africom.
>> it's not my assessment they're taking too many risks. let's keep in mind, although i talked about enemy contact being unlikely on this particular mission, the reason why we're in west africa is because the area of concentration. the reason our special operations forces are operating in libya is because there's a threat of isis attacks from libya. the reason they're in east africa is because there's an al qaeda and a smaller isis presence there. so to the extent they're taking risk, we have sent them there to operate in areas within which there are extremist elements that, if we were to conduct operations, our judgment is they'd have the capability to plan operations against the homeland, the american people or our allies. are they taking risks? they are. are they taking risks that are unreasonable or not within their capabilities? i don't have any reason to believe that. by the way, i'll stay to answer questions. so i'll get you all. >> thank you general dunford. could you describe what weapons
this unit had with them to defend themselves? were they heavily defended or they go in like trucks not expecting much resistance? >> i'll answer the second part because i know. and i'll give you in general the first part. so they did not expect resistance on this particular patrol. at least when they first planned it. again, what happened subsequently will be the investigation. because the rules in that part of west africa are that we will only accompany our partnered forces when the chances of enemy contact are unlikely. so with that, they were equipmented with machine guns, small arms and communications capability to reach back and get larger supporting arms. >> have you learned what type of fires they came under? small arms fire? ieds? >> initial report, i don't have any reports of ieds. i haven't seen those. small arms, rockets and machine
guns. >> jennifer? >> general, when did you alert the white house? there were indications they did not know until ten hours after the attack began. and also there are members on capitol hill, members of the armed services committee who said they didn't know we had troops in niger. is that possible? >> two separate questions. we notified the white house as soon as we had a soldier that was missing was the first report. now they would have received an initial report, probably simultaneous to the way it works that we had a report of three killed in action. and then i know we made some specific calls when we had a soldier that was missing which, of course, we didn't report publicly because we're in the process of trying to recover him. so i know that i spoke to general walthauser that night when we got the initial report. it was probably around 9:00 or
9:30 washington, d.c., time, the night of the 4th. and at that point, knowing that we had a missing soldier, we made a decision to make sure all of the resources to include national assets were available for the recovery of that operation and, of course, we maintained operational security to not put at risk our operations to recover sergeant johnson. with regard to congress, i've heard the criticism of when i provide information information and the way i've taken that to say if the congress doesn't believe that they're getting sufficient information, then i need to double my efforts to provide them with information. so, you know, without going through what people may have known at any given point in time about this operation or other operation, one thing i can tell you is that secretary mattis and i committed to make sure that we satisfy the needs of the congress for the information they need to provide oversight. and so we are looking saying, we thought we were doing all right. which most important is how the
congress feels about that. and so we need to double our communications efforts, and we'll do that. >> thank you, general. you mentioned this was a reconnaissance mission. have you seen any indication to suggest the nature of the mission changed from its original intent? >> no. here's what we know. it was planned as a reconnaissance mission. what happened after they began to execute it? did the mission change? that is one of the questions that's being asked. it's a fair question. but i can't -- but, yes, we've seen reports. we've seen the speculation. given what happened, it's a fair question to ask because if the enemy situation was unlikely, we obviously lost four soldiers and two others wounded in a significant firefight. at some point, did the intelligence that was available to them change? did they have other intelligence available? did they decide to do something different than the original patrol with the department forces? those are the key questions the investigation is looking to uncover.
leah? >> general, are you satisfied overall with the response times, including the fact that it took two days to recover sergeant johnson's body? and more broadly, what does this suggest to you about how you go about things going ahead? is this a more dangerous area than perhaps either intelligence or something else may have indicated? and do you change things as you go ahead? do you increase the assets overhead? do you increase security patrol? >> i think all the questions that you asked, the answers to those are going to be informed by our reading of the investigation. we'll ask every single question you just asked. we will ask ourselves and make adjustments. keep in mind. it's an important point. this area is inherently dangerous. the judgment of contact with the enemy was made about a particular operation at a particular location at a particular time. so is this a dangerous area?
yes. we're there because isis and al qaeda are operating in that area. that's why our forces are providing advice and assist to vole forces is to help them deal with that particular challenge. with regard to our equipping, our responsiveness and so forth, those will all be questions that we'll ask ourselves at every level once the investigation is concluded. it's important for us to base line what support was requested at what particular time? when did it arrive? was it what they needed? all those are fair questions, but i'd just ask for your patience and just giving us the time it takes to do the investigation. one question is how long would it take to do the investigation? we've talked to general waldhauser and have expressed a sense of urgency in getting answers to the questions you've asked and the family have asked. we wanted to have that investigation concluded as quickly as possible but we've prioritized making sure the
investigation is accurate. and that when we go to the families and tell them what happened, that it's based on facts. we're trying to balance the need to do this quickly with the need to make insure it's accurate. we'll err on the side of accuracy. >> should there have been u.s. forces to help locate his body rather than relying on the niger forces? >> there was niger forces involved. there were french forces involved in the operation. there were u.s. forces involved in the operation in its entirety. so there were u.s. forces involved in recovery. as i mentioned, without going into detail, as soon as general waldhauser contacted me that night, i spoke to the secretary of defense. it was a 20-second phone call when i told him what we were asking for. i immediately called general waldhauser and told him his request for additional support was approved and we started putting the wheels in motion to deliver that capability. once we found out sergeant
johnson was missing, we brought the full weight of the u.s. government to bear in trying to recover his body. >> the shock of 800 troops in niger. is that a high point of what we have in the region or 1,000 in mali and more in nigeria? >> that's the largest number in africa right now. we have more in east africa but in any one country, that's the most. i'll have the team come back and just make sure that -- just take a look at all the countries, but that is -- and it also is a high, in this particular area, we've been there off and on for over 20 years. we've established a joint special operations task force in 2011. 2008 and probably 500 or 600 forces there some months ago. this happened to be a high of
800. >> is this mission creep? remember in 1993, october 3rd, blackhawk down. >> i do. >> people are going to say, is this mission creep? >> let me talk about the mission. and i think it's important for me to go back to my opening statement and talk about strategically what we are trying to do. in our judgment, we're deal with global threats in al qaeda and isis and other groups. and the theory of the case of our strategy is to be able to put pressure on them simultaneously wherever they are. and as importantly to anticipate where they will be and to make sure that where they are and where they will be when they get there that they have local security forces to meet the challenges of isis and al qaeda and other groups. so we're work with partners on the ground in africa and other parts of africa. it's the same thing we're doing in iraq and syria and it's what we're doing in afghanistan. but if you look at the numbers, we have 800 americans, 4,000
french and over 35,000 local partners that are operating there. if you look at the numbers in afghanistan, approximately 11,000 americans on the ground, 300,000 afghans. so what the american people need to do, with a relatively small footprint, we are enabling local forces to deal with these challenges before they become a threat to the american people. and to help them to deal with the challenges so they don't further destabilize their local area or region. >> were there any kia and do you know how many? >> we dont know that. we'll be happy to provide that detail to you once the investigation is over. >> any additional -- >> i would point out we did lose five niger partners. that's important to point out. >> any additional patrols with u.s. forces in niger? >> we're back conducting operations as normal.
i don't have information available right now to tell you what's happening today but our attempt is to continue operations there and train and advise and assist our partners. >> any change in force protection for those patrols given what happened? >> no, every unit that guzz out, every patrol that is conducted goes out and makes an assessment of the mission and then the operating environment within which that is going to be conducted and they prepare themselves accordingly. i just expect that continues to be what general waldhauser is doing. >> any information about who the attackers were? we were told they had rebranded themselves as isis and they were a local tribe. and if you do identify who they were, will you go after them? >> our assessment right now is it is an isis-affiliated group. and i think what you bring sup what we're dealing with in many places. isis and al qaeda, isis in this case, they try to leverage local insurgencies and connect those local insurgencies globally. this is the challenge we're
dealing with. so our initial assessment is these are local tribal fighters that are associated with isis. >> will you go after them once you locate where they are? >> i think we'll enable our local partners to go after them as a matter of priority. >> sir, thanks for your time. particularly when it comes to the mirages brought on scene, do you have a sense now that anything has changed now that you're back doing operations? is there any kind of shift here and what they allowed to do with their authorities or the coalition with -- how quickly can you get air support now? >> on the issue of authorities, u.s. forces and coalition forces in the area when it comes to an issue of force protection, self-defense, don't have any limitations. they don't have any limitations. that's something that's been discussed. so with regard to employing fires, if there's an issue of self-defense, we have the
inherent right to do that, and we'll do that. >> were there limitations that night? >> i'm not aware of that. i've seen speculation. i don't have any evidence of limitations during that particular night but, again, if there were, the investigation certainly tease that out. i've seen open-source reporting to that effect. i don't have any information in the operating chain that there were limitations. when i say limitations, you know, part of the requirement is, obviously, to build and integrate. i don't know whether there were any challenges integrating or why the mirages didn't drop bombs during those initial passes or if the unit on the ground asked them to do that. those are things we'll find out in the investigation. >> a couple points. one you mentioned rpa was on the scene within minutes. was that french, american? >> that was american and retached. it was operating in the area. it was retasked. it was in the area and we were able to retask it directly in support of that unit in contact.
>> did it strike? >> it did not strike. >> did it have the possibility? >> i'm not going to talk about our capabilities. but the one that was there within minutes did not strike. >> -- the united states and korea. the president is going to south korea next month and visit the dmz, but president trump has not yet made any decision to visit the dmz. who makes this decision? the korean government or u.s. government? >> i don't know the details of the president's itinerary later this month or what decisions he's made about the dmz. >> the president visited the dmz as the commander in chief as the united states, it's good for the -- >> i'm going to leave it to
president trump and president moon to decide whether or not the president ought to be in the dmz. >> clarify what you were saying about the drone. does that mean you had complete visibility of the situation? there was a drone up above within minutes? >> we had a remotely piloted vehicle in the area. a u.s. remotely piloted vehicle. as soon as they asked for help, within minutes it was retasked to provide intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance, full motion video. one of the capabilities right over the scene of the troops in contact. >> and how long was it able to stay above? >> jennifer, i don't know how long it stayed but i can get that for you. i don't know how long it was on station. >> -- the isr or did they request help and you sent isr? >> they would have in the normal course of events. i haven't seen the logs. but the normal course events, they would have asked discretely for intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance and supporting fires and specific effects they wanted to achieve. they would have had a more
detailed request. >> do you have the video? >> what's that? >> i have not viewed the video. >> on the evacuation, you had the wounded evacuated first and then the killed in action. do you know yet whether anyone did a head count on either of those aircraft or after the evacuations were done to be sure everyone was accounted for? >> i don't have that level of detail in terms of who counted. i know what the procedures would normally be. i can't tell you if those procedures were followed at that particular time. that will be something that will come out in the investigation. yes? >> general, increasing the tempo of missions in africa, can we expect to see more deployment of troops into africa, changes in the r.o.e.? >> it's premature to talk about what additional troops or changes in r.o.e. would make. we're watching carefully with the fall of raqqah and mosul what the enemy will do. that's one of the reasons i have 75 chiefs of defense, one of the
representatives here is to talk about the next phase of the campaign. i described it as an inflection point. one of the places we know isis has aspirations to establish a larger presence is in africa. we know how important libya and the sinai have been to the islamic state. we know how much they have tried to get into east africa and the scenario we're talking about here in west africa. we're going to talk about it and make recommendations to the secretary and the president for the allocations of forces that meet what we see as a threat, what we anticipate the threat to be. but i certainly wouldn't talk about what we'll do tomorrow at this moment. >> for now, have the combatant commanders or chiefs made any recommendation to the white house to change troop numbers, tempo, r.o.e.? has the white house spoken with you? >> one thing i would tell you just to make sure that we're clear, we get requests for capabilities on a routine basis.
they come to me and we frame those for decision by the secretary of defense. so there's constantly requests for capablities that come back between the combatant commanders and the secretary. i don't think a week goes by when we don't work a request to do that. n sometimes it's a question of reallocating capability. if you were talking africa, we'd reallocate it from european command or central command and reallocate it back when the particular mission is complete. but that kind of activity happens all the time. what you are really talking about is a much more sustained presence with a larger footprint. there's been no discussion nor has there been a request for that. >> troops on the ground right now, has there been discussion of increased tempo? >> there has not. there has not. go ahead. >> thanks for doing this. sorry for cutting you off earlier. the -- you said they overnighted the patrol overnight from october 3rd to october 4th. was that part their mission plan they'd put up that headquarters understood was going to happen?
>> i don't have the details of that. you know, i don't know whether it was intended how long it was going to take or if they planned to stay overnight. to be clear, more accurate description than staying overnight was they caught a couple hours of sleep after the 3rd and before they completed their mission on the 4th. >> is there an investigation beyond the 15, 6 into the troop deaths and what's the significance of the fbi -- >> on the first case, no. an investigation being conducted by a general officer at the united states africa command into the incident itself. that's the only investigation u.s. military. with regard to the fbi, it's fairly normal in counterterrorism cases for them to conduct investigations to get information, intelligence that may be related to threats to the united states. and i believe that's the capacity in which the fbi is conducting an investigation right now. >> a quick follow-oup whether
the troops were wearing body armor. >> i don't personally know how the soldiers that day were equipped if they were wearing body armor. >> you talked about the difficult of next of kin noteification. obviously there's a big political discussion about the right way to do that. can you talk generally on just the difficulty, the challenge of conveying to american families when their loved one is lost, what they died for. >> yeah, one, i think what you just zeroed in on is one of the things we try to do when we do this. i've certainly had to do it myself is you want the family to understand the why. and it's one of the most important things we try to do. in this particular case, be able to explain how -- what their loved ones were doing was related to the protection of the homeland and dealing with the threats we confront. and, frankly, i think in this particular case, we'll be able to do that. yes. >> following up. sorry. >> yeah, go ahead. i'll come back. >> following up. sergeant johnson's widow said
this morning she'd asked to see her husband's body but had been told no. is that the case? is there a reason why? >> yeah, it's not -- first of all, i did hear that this morning. and what typically happens, and again, i've been involved in these cases myself, is there are times when we make a suggestion to the family that they may not want to view the remains. at the end of the day, the policy is it's the family's decision as to whether or not they did that. so i can tell you what the policy is. i don't know what happened in the case of mrs. johnson, but we'll certainly find that out. but i did hear her say that today. certainly, again, from a policy perspective, we'd defer to the family's desire when we do that, but i don't know what happened in the exchange with mrs. johnson and what would have normally been the casualty assistance officer that would have been supporting her. >> if it does turn out that she was not given the option to view her husband's body, is this something you'll be looking
further into? >> i don't want to speculate. that causes me to speculate whether -- what exactly happened, but i can assure you if mrs. johnson or any of the families of the fallen are unsatisfied with the support they've had to date or have additional questions, we're going to go to every last length to try to satisfy their concerns or answer their suez questioque. that's what we do. with mrs. johnson, with all four of the fallen and any one of the department that gives their lives on behalf of our country, we're going to do everything we can to answer those family's questions. >> who found sergeant johnson's body? >> initial reports, and again, you know, my understanding is the body was reported by nigerian forces to u.s. forces. i'm going out on a little bit on that one because i feel pretty comfortable that's what the reporting was, but from the
investigation, we'll get to the final details. but that's the initial report. right there in the back. i'm going to come back. >> so as isis decentralizes and u.s. military looks to partner with a number of nations to attack it across the global network you've described, should the american people expect to start hearing about incidents like this in countries outside of iraq and syria and places they're maybe not familiar with? >> again, in this particular case, we've been operating there for many years. and this is a tragic incident, but it hasn't been a matter of routine. if you're asking me, is it going to be a matter of routine that we suffer casualties in places other than niger or outside of active areas of hostilities, no, it won't be a matter of routine that we'll suffer casualties. we will, unfortunately in a war described as a generational war, have additional casualties in the future and we'll do all we
can to mitigate it. when we're conducting these investigations which we call train, advise and assist, we don't normally accompany those local partnered forces when contact with the enemy is expected. so we do one of two things. we either stay back on the last cover and conceal position. that's before enemy contact is made. or we don't even go on an operation if enemy contact is made. outside of active hostilities, our focus is to enable local forces to be able to conduct operations against the enemy. okay. yes, ma'am. >> to say that the war on isis is shifting right now to africa? >> i think it's shifting. i'm not sure i'm ready to say it's shifting just to africa. we're dealing with a challenge that exists from west africa to southeast asia. we've seen manifestations of it in europe and inspired attacks here in the united states. so we're dealing with a global
challenge. i believe that isis will attempt to establish a physical presence outside of iraq and syria now that they have lost their caliphate in raqqah and mosul. they'll attempt to establish. that's why we're conducting the kind of operations we've conducted in niger is to ensure local forces have the capability to prevent that from happening. >> we have time for two more questions. >> courtney? >> thank you. does part of the fbi investigation include interviewing the wounded and the soldiers who were there at the attack back here in the u.s.? >> we'll have to get back to you. i don't actually know the details of the fbi investigation. i'm very familiar with the u.s. military investigation and the general officer that's been assigned to do that investigation will interview everyone that was there, anyone that has any information about the incident that took place on the 3rd and 4th of october, but i can't talk about the fbi investigation. >> can you give us a time from the -- the initial troops in contact until they were -- the
americans were taken out of the area? what was the total time of this entire engagement? do you have that? >> what i can tell you is that it was midmorning local time in niger on the 3rd of october when this all began. and it was the evening, local time, on the 6th of october when sergeant johnson's body was recovered. so there was ongoing operations throughout that period of time. in the back there. >> sir, thank you very much for doing this. if i can have one and then a follow-up. will the investigation be able to look into what french intelligence or french military activity was or may have been in the area of the attack leading up to the attack? >> absolutely. absolutely. our investigating officer will absolutely engage our french partners and interview the french soldiers that were involved. i'm sure he'll interview the crews that were called in to provide support to include the roetsary wing, attack helicopters and fixed wing. i don't have any doubt that all
the information the french have available will be shared with our investigators. >> classified intelligence on their part? >> that's happening every day. there's no doubt about that. we are -- we are integrated in conducting operations with the french. we are partnered with them there. so we have complete transparency in sharing information in west africa with the french. >> if i can follow up, you mentioned national assets that deployed from the united states. without specifying what those national assets were, can you say if any of them reached niger before the situation was resolved? >> honestly, i'm not going to address that. i do want you to know that we have things, i think many of you are familiar with those things, but we have national assets. and as soon as we had a missing soldier, we brought those assets to bear. but i'm not going to talk the details or the type of capability. in the back there. >> should the american public be prepared for the loss of more u.s. troops in africa? >> what i would tell you is that the majority of our operations
in africa are designed to support the training, advising and assisting of the local african partners. and we mitigate the risk to u.s. forces with specific guidance that we only accompany those forces when the prospects of enemy contact is unlikely. there are other areas in africa where we have a different construct. so what i just described to you is the construct that exists in west africa. clearly, and you've seen it in reen recent days, we have a difference operation against al qaeda, al shabab and al qaeda organizations inside of east africa. so, you know, we tailor the conduct of u.s. forces based on the threat. the bias in africa is to support local forces in dealing with the threat. where there is a threat to the u.s. homeland, american people, or our allies, we're going to do whatever is necessary to address that particular threat. so if we -- let me just be clear and use an example. if we have a specific threat to
the homeland and local forces are unable to deal with that threat, the united states forces are going to deal with that threat. but the bias is towards enabling local african partners to conduct operations in africa. >> clarity on the timeline on the meds vac. how long did it take for the casualties were medevaced and how long before the dead americans were returned on the contractor flight? >> okay. what i outlined for you earlier was the evening of -- during the firefight, so this is probably some time late in the afternoon and then in the evening is when the two soldiers who were wounded were evacuated. what i don't have is the specific time when they were wounded. if you're asking for a time between when they were wounded and evacuated, i don't have that. in terms of the soldiers killed in action, they were evacuated in the evening, local time in niger in the evening on the 4th
of october. >> do you have an idea of how long the firefight lasted? and did the mirages play any role in disrupting the firefight? >> anything i would tell you about the mirages, and i've seen some of it, would be speculat n speculation. what i need to hear from are the guys on the ground who were employing those mirages before i make a reply on what effect those mirages had. >> do you have a general sense of how long it took place? >> only that it took several hours. well into the evening on the 3rd of october. >> sir, one last -- >> 4th of october. thank you. >> could you let us know how many u.s. forces are serving in africom total, west and east africa. maybe a potential breakdown? >> yeah, sure. i can give you a range. we have, on the order of 6,000, a little over 6,000 forces in africa. and they are in about 53 different countries.
>> general dunford, on the search for sergeant johnson's body, how many troops took part in that and how many partner ead allied forces as well? >> i can't. again, that's down to a level of detail that is really going to require the investigation to lay all that out. >> how many u.s. troops took part in the search? >> i can't tell you what -- again, i know how many u.s. troops were part of that original advise/assist mission. i don't know what each of those troops were doing at any given time once contact was made. so anything i'd tell you at this point, id'd be speculating. >> you said u.s. forces don't go out if they expect enemy contact. they won't go out -- >> the exact language, i don't want to be -- i'm not correcting you, but when we say chances of enemy contact unlikely, we would go out. >> you also said they will go out or remain at the last cover
and conceal position if there is -- >> there are different locations with different rules in those locations. what i described to you were the rules that were in place at the time this operation was conducted in niger. okay? i'll take one more. >> this was trump's benghazi. you don't like getting into political muck, but -- >> how did you figure that out? you have a track record. it's out there. what's your reaction? >> i personally see no utility in comparing this incident to any other incident. we lost four americans in this incident. we had two other wounded. that makes it a big deal to me. that gives me a sense of urgency to identify exactly what happened, to communicate exactly what happened to the families and the american people. so i personally am not comparing this to any other incident. what's most important to me, aside from getting the facts, is
identifying those things that we can do better in the future. and that's my focus. okay? all right. hey, thanks. >> you've been watching america's highest ranking military official, the chairman of the joint chiefs. general joseph dunford. headlines out of there for everyone who's been gripped by this story. obviously, an attack that resulted in the loss of four american service members. it comes down to what he described as an assessment before they went out that contact with the enemy was unlikely. lots of questions being asked by the pentagon press corps there about the timeline. our own hans nichols and courtney were in there and we'll have them with us as soon as they're ready and in position, but joining us now, retired four-star general barry mccaffrey, msnbc military analyst. i heard him say at the very beginning and assessment was made contact with the enemy was unlikely. that seems to me to have been an
assessment, intelligence assessment that put in motion everything that happened next. is that the case? >> i think, you know, they had a campaign plan for that training mission. they'd been on the ground, as general dunford -- by the way, very professional, straightforward, thoughtful explanation of what he knew and what they're going to find out. look, this is squad-sized units and special forces a-team, incredibly talented, capable, operating in a dangerous environment, not trying to engage this mission in direct combat, which is more likely in other places in africa. somalia obviously being one exception and libya, another exception. i think they went out on a mission, did not think they would encounter a sizable force and then were engaged and had a very bloody encounter. >> let me pick up on your point. i saw your appearance on friday
night, and so it strikes me as important to note that he went out with this mission. he started by saying, "there's a perception that the department of defense has not been forthcoming." he made it clear he was there to erase that perception. the military remains one of the institutions in which the public by and large has a great deal of trust and respect and he seemed to have that in mind. the political climate in which this has all been taking place. did you get that sense in watching him? >> oh, yeah. look, this guy's a thorough professional, been in combat himself in numerable years both in iraq and afghanistan. these are extremely competent senior officers. they all grew up in combat. this stuff has been going on for -- start in the balkans, they spent their entire life in operational requirements. i think what the other thing i always caution people is, that, look, i spent a lot of time in combat as a lieutenant and a captain. the enemy always gets a vote. these are dangerous situations on the ground.
we're armed. we're scared. we're trying to do the best we can. and when we encounter casualties, it doesn't mean something went wrong. it meant, we were in contact with direct small arms fire with ieds, with mortars, rockets. you know, i think the perception is, we had one special ops s.e.a.l. mission, i think in yemen, where one s.e.a.l. operator was killed, and the substance characterization of it was, it was a blown mission. >> right. >> this is dangerous work. >> let me -- please stay with us. bringing hans into the conversation. in the briefing. you were peppering general dunford with questions trying to tamp down the timeline. i started with the general saying october 3rd when they accompanied some french troops and some local troops, there was an assessment that contact with the enemy was unlikely, and you drilled down on the rest of the
timeline from when the first attacks were incoming. it sounds like about an hour lapsed before they called for support and then another hour before support arrived. can you explain the significance and what sort of pressure was relieved by this level of detail being shared by america's highest ranking military official? >> reporter: i think what they're trying to do, get all the facts out. we did learn new information here. particularly the duration of this firefight. it happened around 11:00. saying mid-morning. 11:30 is roughly local time. it lasted well into the evening. it was in the afternoon. so several hours later, that casualties were first evacuated. american casualties, and not until later in the evening the dead were evacuated. remember, the dead were evacuateed by an american contractor. u.s. casualties by french support. we got a much better sense of just what was happening in the chaos and how long and how hard this fight is. we also learned a little bit about where they were. south of the village. coming from the village.
we got a little more clarity there. no clarity on whether or not these special forces, some of them technically green berets, others just assigned, whether or not they were wearing body armor. no clarity on that and this idea when the french arrived. looked like it was a good two hours after initial contact. initially we've been told here at the pentagon that it was 30 minutes. so they're clarifying little bits of this timeline. trying to feed out information soon as they have it. nicolle, a lot of questions we still have that were not answered. as they do more fact gathering on the ground, i think we can expect to hear more. an interesting point. the u.s. posture in niger will not change and if there's any attempt to go after this isis-affiliated group they will only assist partner forces and let them know it's a priority, but i didn't hear any telegraphing of future additional military operations in west africa trying to exact some sort of retribution or some sort of response. and then finally, on the broader
context of this, it's very clear that pentagon is preparing for this fight against isis, extremist groups across the globe, to shift to the ungoverned parts of africa. niger, mali, chad. clear as they see isis losing territory, their capital in raqqah, the city of mosul, that they expect them to shift towards africa and as general dunford said, they want to be where isis is going to go. nicolle? >> and hans, he gave more information than we've heard before about the sequence of events, the very tragic sequence of events around the recovery of the body of sergeant la david t. johnson. can you talk about that a little bit? >> reporter: you know, he is giving as much as he can, and in terms of the remains being returned back to the states, he did give this idea that normally it is the family that makes the decision on whether or not to view the remains. now, when this body was recovered, that was the evening.
the evening of october the 6th -- that's time in niger. that's more than -- almost by my math close to 54, 56 hours after initial contact. initially we had thought 48 hours, and it was, as you said, clearly, nigerian partner forces that found the body of la david johnson. we also, nicolle, got a hint just how massive the effort was to bring forces in. u.s. special operators across the globe when they thought he might still be alive. >> is general mccaffrey still with us? >> yes. >> general, he made it clear that this investigation and all this information is made available because the family has the trite know why. a family has the right to know how, and he really placed the family at the center of everything that happens once a service member has made the ultimate sacrifice. that seems to stand in stark contrast to the way the day started, with sergeant johnson's
widow on "good morning america" and disputing the fact pattern? >> guess graceful and terrible we got into this kind of a problem. let me add one other thing. i thought general dunford was very direct but diplomatic. did congress know we were in west africa? it's hard for me to imagine every time we move a special forces team from one theater to another the secretary of defense personally has to sign off on it. and the armed services committees and intelligence committees are routinely notified of classified military operations. it's just unusual to me that -- and i heard people, i really trust and respect, like senator mccain and schumer and graham, but hard for me to believe that they had, didn't have a concept that we were there with drones and a significant base supporting the french. >> peter baker, bringing you into the conversation and ask
you just about the tone that general dunford struck. it's been the tone since this initial contact with the widow of sergeant johnson that has offended her. this tone that was struck today seems to bring us back to a place where that was just sacred and that which is treasured and that which is sort of, holds us together was restored in this nearly 50-minute briefing from the highest ranking military official, the chairman of the joint chiefs. is the white house pointing to this? are they going to show this to the president and say, this is what you're supposed to do? >> well, a great question. it was striking, of course. general dunford asked about the widow's, complaints on television. said i heard them. if there's anything we can do to make it -- to make it better we want to do that. that this soldier deserves the best. his family deserves the best and we want to address their concerns. that's what you expect to hear. expect to hear from a person in authority, whether the white house or pentagon in a situation where somebody has given his
life for his country and the family agrees, you expect to hear from the president of the united states and the people who work for him the tone of respectful, we're going to address their concerns and that's what we haven't heard from the white house, and we did before general dunford today. >> master class. i hope the president was watching. we know he watches a lot of television. my thanks to you all. that does it for our hour, i'm nicolle wallace, "mtp daily" starts now. >> if it's monday, the pentagon sheds new light on the u.s. military operations in niger. tonight -- the death of four american soldiers is drawing new questions be at attack and the u.s. military mission. >> their presence is part of a global strategy. >> we owe you more information. more important, we owe the families of the fallen more information. plus, the new republican party. why steve bannon's