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US Defense Secretary Meets with McCain Over Niger Attack

  • VOA News

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., left, and Defense Secretary James Mattis, speak to members of the media after their meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, Oct. 20, 2017.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis went to Capitol Hill Friday to meet with Senator John McCain after the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee threatened to issue a subpoena for information about the deaths of four U.S. soldiers killed in Niger.

After meeting privately with McCain in his office Friday, Mattis promised to keep better lines of communication with Congress.

“We could be better at communication, we can always improve at communication and that’s exactly what we’ll do,” he said.

McCain said the meeting helped to clear up the information channels.

“I felt we were not getting a sufficient amount of information and we are clearing a lot of that up now,” he said.

Earlier this week, McCain threatened to use a subpoena to compel information from the Pentagon and Trump administration officials about the Niger attack. He complained that it was easier to get information about military operations under former President Barack Obama.

The U.S. military has blamed Islamic State militants for the deaths of the four Special Forces soldiers in southwestern Niger and has said it is conducting an investigation into the Oct. 4 attack.

A combination photo of U.S. Army Special Forces Sergeant Jeremiah Johnson (L to R), U.S. Special Forces Sgt. Bryan Black, U.S. Special Forces Sgt. Dustin Wright and U.S. Special Forces Sgt. La David Johnson killed in Niger, West Africa, Oct. 4, 2017, in these handout photos released Oct. 18, 2017.
A combination photo of U.S. Army Special Forces Sergeant Jeremiah Johnson (L to R), U.S. Special Forces Sgt. Bryan Black, U.S. Special Forces Sgt. Dustin Wright and U.S. Special Forces Sgt. La David Johnson killed in Niger, West Africa, Oct. 4, 2017, in these handout photos released Oct. 18, 2017.

U.S. Army Special Forces, also known as Green Berets, had just completed a meeting with local leaders in Niger and were walking back to their vehicles when they were attacked, according to a U.S. official, who spoke to VOA on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.

The soldiers said the meeting ran late, and some suspected that the villagers were intentionally delaying their departure, the official said.

Initially, the Pentagon announced that three soldiers had been killed in the ambush. The body of a fourth soldier, Sergeant La David Johnson, was recovered more than a day later and questions have been raised about why it took as long as it did.

CNN reported Friday that Johnson’s body was found nearly a mile away from the site of the ambush. It said military officials are still looking at the exact circumstance of how and when Johnson became separated from the rest of his team, but officials emphasized that the search for Johnson began immediately.

Pentagon officials said there are about 800 U.S. troops in Niger in an operation underway for five years against the Boko Haram militant group and other terrorist organizations.

White House phone calls

President Donald Trump's calls to the families of the fallen soldiers has sparked a public argument between Trump and a Florida lawmaker, who accused Trump of telling one soldier's widow that her husband "knew what he signed up for."

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Friday criticized Frederica Wilson, a Democratic congresswoman who clashed with the president over his condolence call.

Sanders told reporters at the White House: "As we say in the South: All hat, no cattle."

Wilson represents the home district of Sergeant La David Johnson, one of the four soldiers killed in Niger.

FILE - In this frame from video, Myeshia Johnson cries over the casket in Miami, Florida, Oct. 17, 2017, of her husband, Sgt. La David Johnson, who was killed in an ambush in Niger.
FILE - In this frame from video, Myeshia Johnson cries over the casket in Miami, Florida, Oct. 17, 2017, of her husband, Sgt. La David Johnson, who was killed in an ambush in Niger.

Wilson said she was listening in on the call Trump made to Johnson's widow, Myeshia, while family members were in a limousine en route to an airport to meet the soldier's body

Speaking to MSNBC on Wednesday, Wilson said Trump "was almost like joking," during the conversation, which was on a speaker in the car. "He said, 'Well, I guess you know, something to the effect that he knew what he was getting into when he signed up, but I guess it hurts anyway,' " Wilson explained to MSNBC.

Trump responded to Wilson's allegations Wednesday, tweeting that she had "totally fabricated what I said to the wife of a soldier who died in action (and I have proof). Sad!"

In a separate interview with CNN, Wilson said, "I have proof, too. This man is a sick man."

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