Department of Defense Press Briefing by General Dunford in the Pentagon Briefing Room
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford
GENERAL JOSEPH DUNFORD: Hey, ladies and gentlemen. Thanks for the opportunity to speak to you about the recent events in Niger which claimed the lives of four Americans. Staff Sergeant Bryan Black, Sergeant La David Johnson, Staff Sergeant Jeremiah Johnson and Staff Sergeant Dustin Wright. And I begin by once again offering my sincere condolences to the families and the units of the fallen. They're all in our thoughts and prayers.
Unrelated, today is the anniversary of the 1983 Beirut bombing, and I want the families of the 241 Americans lost that day to know that we'll also 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, and there's a perception that the Department of Defense has not been forthcoming.
And I thought it would be helpful for me to personally clarify to you what we know today, and to outline what we hope to find out in the ongoing investigation. And Secretary Mattis would 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 defeat violent extremism in west Africa. Their presence is part of a global strategy.
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're a global threat enabled by the flow of foreign fighters, resources and their narrative. And they seek to operate where they can exploit weaknesses in 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.
While we can be proud of our progress to date, we have to acknowledge that our work is not done. Even with the fall of Mosul and Raqqa, we're at an inflection point in the global campaign, not an end point.
And that's why, tonight, I'm going to welcome chiefs 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 improve the support we provide to nations, provided that -- confronted with violent extremism. And 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 in -- affiliated with ISIS, Al Qaeda and Boko Haram. Let me address the specific events in Niger that took place earlier this month. On the 3rd of October, 12 members of the U.S. Special Operations Task Force accompanied 30 Nigerien forces on a civil-military reconnaissance mission from the capital city of Niamey to an area near the village of Tongo Tongo. Approximately 85 kilometers to the north was the location of that village.
GEN. DUNFORD: On the 4th of October, U.S. and Nigerien forces began moving back south. And 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.
And what I want to do now is I want to walk through for you the timeline that we in kind of what I would categorize as what we know about the incident. So early in the morning at 3rd October, as I mentioned, U.S. forces accompanied that Nigerian unit on a reconnaissance mission to gather information. The assessment by our leaders on the ground at that time was that contact with the enemy was unlikely.
Mid-morning on October 4th, the patrol began to take fire as they were returning to their operating base. Approximately one hour after taking fire the team requested support. And within minutes the remotely piloted aircraft arrived overhead. Within an hour, French Mirage jets arrived on station.
And then later that afternoon, French attack helicopters arrived on station, and 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 to Niamey, and that was consistent with the casualty evacuation plan that was in place for this particular operation. Three U.S. soldiers who were KIA were evacuated on the evening of 4 October. And at that time, 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.
Now 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 the 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 pre-mission 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 they take time to find and recover Sgt. Johnson? Again, these are all fair questions that the investigation is designed to identify.
And what I would say is that 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 again the questions that remain that we will work on over the next several weeks as the investigations unfolds.
And with that, I'm happy to take your questions.
Q: Chairman Dunford, thanks very much.
We've 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 point as to why that was the case? And I have a brief follow-up if you don't mind.
GEN. DUNFORD: Sure, Jim, and 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 to the time where they returned, there's been a lot of speculation and a lot of reports, and that's why I want to baseline today, what we know and what we don't know.
And what you're asking is a fair question, but we don't know that definitively right now. I can't answer it definitively. And what I'm trying to do today is -- 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. And the questions that we're asking -- now 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 at a given time that caused unit to maneuver, and where they might have been when Sergeant Johnson's body was found.
GEN. DUNFORD: Those are all questions that we'll identify during the investigation.
And you had a follow up.
Q: Quick follow. You're 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 do you take any issue with those kinds of questions?
GEN. DUNFORD: Let me just speak for myself on sharing information with the media. And I don't know exactly what you're referring to, and so I'm not going to benchmark my comments against that.
I think 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.
And so, 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 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 I think 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 experts go in to 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 share 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 that 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 and we intend to deliver just that.
Q: General, if I could just get a quick follow-up on the timeline, you said that they didn't call for air support until an hour in to contact and then the French came, so that would make the arrival of the French 90 minutes, a good two hours after the initial contact, which conflicts with what we've been told?
GEN. DUNFORD: OK. So, let me walk you through the timeline. 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 then 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.
But it's important to note that 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're confronted with enemy contact, your initial assessment is you can deal with that contact with the resources that you have, and at some point, in the firefight they concluded they then 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? So, this is what I'm trying to do is clear up today. I think 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, and so that's where the 30 minutes came from, and I'm making that clarification.
Q: And then as operational clarification, you said they were ambushed when they were coming back to their outpost? Previously we've been told that they were ambushed when they were leaving the village. Is there a discrepancy there?
GEN. DUNFORD: Yeah, there is -- no, there's not a discrepancy. When I described it, they're leaving the village. Where are they going at that point? They're going back to their operating base. They're moving south.
Q: OK, but how far from the village?
GEN. DUNFORD: I don't have the exact details of how far. The investigation, again, will go out there.
You know, these investigations, for those that haven't been involved in the past -- there'll 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 will be provided so we can provide the family with detailed graphics of exactly what happened and how this -- how this unfolded.
So I wouldn't want to talk about numbers and meters from the village, but the initial report was that the contact they made with the enemy was outside the village, south of the village, as they were heading back to their operating base in...
Q: I just want to be clear, sir, that -- you said that 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 a doubt that, within that hour, they did not try and call out for support?
GEN. DUNFORD: 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'll 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. I don't know what their initial assessment was of what they were confronted with.
What I do know is that our logs indicate that, 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 that 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.
Q: But -- so you're saying -- one of the questions is, you know...
Q: ... is there -- is there good enough intelligence, do they have enough ISR and equipment. But General Waldhauser, who runs African Command, in his confirmation hearing last year said he's the economy theater. Clearly, he doesn't have enough.
And if the French have to come and help out, doesn't that, you know, raise the question of is there enough American equipment there...
GEN. DUNFORD: Sure.
Q: ... number one. And again, General -- Secretary Mattis said he wants to expand, lean forward more in AFRICOM. You know, can you do that without sending more equipment, ISR over there?
GEN. DUNFORD: Yeah. No, Tom, fair question. And I think I would distinguish between what does the commander of AFRICOM need to do the full range of missions that he believes need to be done, and what missions are being done with the equipment available.
And I would tell you that, while General Waldhauser may need more capability to do more missions or more expansive missions, 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.
Q: ... particular question you -- still need to be answered in this particular...
GEN. DUNFORD: Absolutely. And I mean, look, there's two reasons to do the investigation. One reason is to make sure that we inform the families, the American people, the -- and the Congress, of course.
The second is, every time something like this happens, we do an internal look at ourselves and we 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.
Q: And also...
GEN. DUNFORD: So, I think that's fair.
Q: ... right. The other issue is there are some in African Command and some here in the Pentagon who think the Special Forces are taking too many risks over there.
GEN. DUNFORD: Yeah, Tom, I think that would be speculation. In other words, here's what I'm very clear on: I'm very clear on the framework within which this operation took place. In other words, 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're speculating.
Q: But General, special operators in Africa or may be taking too many risks. That's the sense of some people in this building and also AFRICOM.
GEN. DUNFORD: Well, Tom, I know I don't -- I don't -- it's not my assessment that they're taking too many risks. I mean, 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 it's an area of concentration of ISIS and Al-Qaeda. The reason why our special operations forces are operating in Libya is because there is a threat of ISIS attacks from Libya.
The reason they're in east Africa is because there is an Al-Qaeda and a smaller ISIS presence there, so to the extent that they're taking risks, we have sent them there to operate in areas within which there are extremist elements that if we weren't conducting operations our judgment is that they would plant -- they have the capability to plant and conduct operations against the homeland, the American people, or our allies.
So, 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. Sure, and by the way, I'll stay to answer questions, so I'll get to you all.
Q: Thank you General Dunford. Can you please describe what weapons this unit had with them to defend themselves? Were they heavily defended or did they go in light trucks not expecting much resistance?
GEN. DUNFORD: 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 part in the forces when the chances of enemy contact are unlikely.
So with that, they were equipped with machine guns, small arms, and obviously had the ability with communications capability to reach back and get greater -- larger supporting arms.
Q: And have you learned at all what type of fire they came under? Was it small arms fire, were there IEDs?
GEN. DUNFORD: Yes, the initial report -- I don't have any reports of IEDs. I haven't seen those -- small arms, rockets, and machine guns. Jennifer? I'll just come this way since to fill out.
Q: General Dunford, when did you alert the White House? There are indications that they did not know until 10 hours after the attack began? And also, there are members on Capitol Hill -- members of the Armed Services Committee who say they didn't know that we had troops in Niger. Is that possible?
GEN. DUNFORD: Sure, yes two separate questions. I -- 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 simultaneously to me the way it works with our Ops Centers that we had reported 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 in the process of trying to recover him.
So, I know I spoke to General Waldhauser that night when we got the initial report. It was probably around 9 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 that 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 at that particular time.
With regard to Congress, for the criticism of we're not providing enough information. In a way, I've taken that is to say if the Congress doesn't believe that they're not -- that they're getting sufficient information, then I need to double my efforts to provide them with information.
So, without going through what people may have known at any given point in time about this operation or another operation, I mean the one thing I can tell you is that Secretary Mattis and I are committed to make sure that we satisfy the needs of the Congress for the information they need to provide oversight. And so, we're looking in the mirror saying OK, we thought we were doing all right. What's most important is how the Congress feels about that and so we need to double our communications efforts and we'll do that.
Q: Thank you, General. You mentioned that this was a reconnaissance mission. There have been some conflicting accounts. Have you seen so far any indication to suggest that the nature of the mission changed from its original intent?
GEN. DUNFORD: No, I -- here's what we know. It was planned as a reconnaissance mission. What happened after they began to execute it, in other words, did the mission change? That is one of the questions that's being asked. It's a fair question but I can't tell you definitively the answer to that question. But yes, we've seen the 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, had two others wounded, and a pretty significant firefight. So, 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 their partner forces? Those are some of the key questions that the investigation is looking to uncover.
Q: 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 patrols?
GEN. DUNFORD: I think all of the questions that you asked -- the answers to those are going to be informed by our reading of the investigation. I mean, we'll ask every single question you just asked, we will ask ourselves, and make adjustments. And keep in mind, I mean I think 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 -- so is this a dangerous area? Yes, that's -- we're there because ISIS and Al-Qaeda are operating in that area. That's why our forces are providing advice and assist to local forces is to help them to deal with that particular challenge. With regard to our equipment, our responsiveness, and so forth, those will all be questions that we will ask ourselves at every level once the investigation is concluded.
Because I think it's important for us to baseline what support was requested at what particular time, when did it arrive, was it what they needed? All of those are fair questions, but again, I would just ask for your -- your patience in just giving us the time it takes to do the investigation. And one of the questions we haven't asked yet is how long will it take to do the investigation? For Secretary Mattis and I, we've talked to General Waldhauser.
We certainly have expressed a sense of urgency in getting the answers to the questions that you've asked and the family have asked. We want to have that investigation concluded as quickly as possible, but we have prioritized making sure that the investigation is accurate. And -- and that when we go to the families and we tell them what happened, that it's based on facts.
And so we're trying to balance the need to do this quickly with the need to make sure that it's accurate. And I think we will certainly err on the side of accuracy.
Q: Well, should there have been U.S. forces also used to help locate his body rather than relying on the Niger Air Forces, do you think?
GEN. DUNFORD: There was Niger forces involved in the operation, 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.
And, as I mentioned to you, 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, told him his request for additional support was approved, and then we started putting the wheels in motion to deliver that capability.
So, I can tell you, once we found out that Sergeant Johnson was missing, we brought the full weight of the U.S. government to bear in trying to -- to try to recover his body.
Q: There's a -- the shock of 800 troops in Niger -- is that the high point in terms of what we have in the region? Or do we have 1,000 in Mali and more in Nigeria?
GEN. DUNFORD: No, that's the largest number in Africa right now. We have more that -- in east Africa. But in any one country, that's the most.
Q: Now, mission creep -- people are going to...
GEN. DUNFORD: I'll tell you -- what I'll do is I'll have -- I'll have the team come back and make sure that, you know, just take a look at all the countries. But that is -- and it also is a high, in this particular -- again, we've been there off and on for over 20 years.
We established a joint special operations task force in 2011 -- or 2008. And we probably had, you know, 500 or 600 forces there some months ago. This was -- this happened to be a high of 800.
Q: The public are going to wonder, is this mission creep? You remember in 2000 -- in 1993, October 3rd, Black Hawk down?
GEN. DUNFORD: I do.
Q: People are going to say, "Is this mission creep?"
GEN. DUNFORD: 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 were trying to do.
In our judgment, we're dealing with global threats in Al Qaeda, in 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, they're confronted by local security forces that have the ability to meet the challenges associated with Al Qaeda, ISIS and other groups.
And so, we are working with partners on the ground in west Africa. We are working with partners on the ground in other parts of Africa. It's the same thing we're doing in Iraq, in Syria and it's what we're doing in Afghanistan.
But, if you look at the numbers, we have 800 Americans, we have 4,000 French and there's 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 know is, 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.
Q: So, there's a bit of contradicting information about the enemy KIA. Were there any enemy KIA, and do you know how many?
GEN. DUNFORD: I don't know that. And we'd be happy to -- as soon as the investigation is over, we'd be happy to provide that detail to you. I don't have that information.
Q: Have there been any additional...
GEN. DUNFORD: But we did -- I would point out, though, we did lose five Nigerien partners, and that's important to point out.
Q: Have there been any additional patrols with U.S. forces in Niger?
GEN. DUNFORD: We are back conducting operations as normal. I don't have information available right now to tell you what's happening today. But our intent is to continue operations there and continue to train, advise, assist our partners.
Q: Has there been any change in force protection for those patrols, given what happened?
GEN. DUNFORD: Every unit that goes out, every patrol that is conducted goes out and makes an assessment of the mission, and then the operating environment within which that mission is going to be conducted, and then they prepare themselves accordingly. So, I just expect that's -- that continues to be what General Waldhauser and his leadership are doing.
Q: Do you have any more information about who the attackers were? We were told initially that they had rebranded themselves ISIS and they were a local tribe. And if you do identify who they were, will you go after them?
GEN. DUNFORD: Our assessment right now is, it is an ISIS-affiliated group. And I think what you bring up is what we're dealing with in many places, is ISIS and Al Qaeda -- ISIS in this case -- they try to leverage local insurgencies and connect those local insurgencies globally. This is the challenge that we're dealing with. And so, our initial assessment is these are local tribal fighters that are associated with ISIS.
Q: And will you go after them once you locate where they are?
GEN. DUNFORD: I think we'll enable our local partners to go after them as a matter of priority.
Q: Sir, thanks for your time.
Particularly when it comes to the Mirages that were brought on the 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 in what they're allowed to do with their authorities or the coalition? How quickly can you...
GEN. DUNFORD: On the issue of authorities, I just want to make it clear that US forces and coalition forces in the area when it comes to an issue of forced protection self-defense don't have any limitations. They don't have any limitations. So, that's been something that's been discussed. And so with regard to employing fires, if there's an issue of self-defense we have the inherent right to do that, and we will do that.
Q: Were there limitations that night?
GEN. DUNFORD: I am 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 will certainly tease that out. I've seen open-source reporting to that effect.
I don't have any information in the operating chain that would indicate that there were limitations. Now when I say limitations, part of the requirement is obviously the ability to integrate, and I don't know whether there was any challenges integrating. I don't know why the Mirages didn't drop bombs during those initial passes. I don't know if the unit on the ground asked them to do that. Those are things we'll find out in the investigation.
Q: Just a couple of clearer points -- one, you mentioned RPA was on scene within minutes. Was that French, American?
GEN. DUNFORD: No, it was the American, and it was retasked. It was operating in the area anyway, and so we were able to retask it, and that's why it was available in minutes. It was literally in the air, in the area and we were able to retask directly in support of that unit that was in contact.
Q: Was that an armed system? Did it strike?
GEN. DUNFORD: It did not strike. It did not strike.
Q: Did it have the possibility...
GEN. DUNFORD: Yes, I'm not going to talk about what our capabilities are in the region, but that particular capability that was there within minutes did not strike.
Q: (Inaudible) Korea. On the president's trip to South Korea next month, and that he visit to DMZ, but President Trump has not yet made any decision to visit the DMZ this month. Who made this decision, the Korean government, or the U.S. government?
GEN. DUNFORD: I don't know the details of the president's itinerary later this month or what decisions he's made about the DMZ.
Q: But (inaudible) president visited the DMZ as commander in chief of the United States, it's good for the (inaudible).
GEN. DUNFORD: 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.
Q: Could you clarify what you are saying about the drone?
GEN. DUNFORD: Sure.
Q: Does that mean you have complete visibility of the situation? There was a drone up above within minutes?
GEN. DUNFORD: We had a remotely piloted vehicle that was in the area. It was a U.S. remotely-piloted vehicle. As soon as they asked for help, within minutes it was re-tasked to provide intelligent surveillance and reconnaissance -- full-motion video, one of the capabilities right over the scene of the troops in contact.
Q: And how long was it able to stay above?
GEN. DUNFORD: Jennifer, I don't know how long it stayed, but I certainly can get that for you. I don't know how long it was on station at that particular time.
Q: But did they request specifically ISR? Or did they request help, and then you guys sent ISR?
GEN. DUNFORD: They would have, in the normal course of events. I haven't seen the logs. We'll have all that teased out in the investigation. But the normal course events -- they would have asked discreetly for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and then also supporting fires and specific effects that they wanted to achieve. So, I think they would have had a more detailed request.
Q: Do you have the video?
GEN. DUNFORD: What's that?
Q: Have you viewed it?
GEN. DUNFORD: I have not viewed the video.
Q: On the evacuation, you had the wounded evacuated, of course, first, and then the killed in action. Do you know yet whether anyone did a head count on either of those aircraft, or after those evacuations were done, to be sure that everybody was accounted for?
GEN. DUNFORD: I don't have that level of detail, in terms of who counted. You know, I mean, I know what the procedures would normally be. I can't tell you if those procedures were followed at that particular time. Again, that will be something that will come out in the investigation.
Q: General, (OFF-MIKE) be increasing the tempo of missions in Africa? Can we expect to see more deployment of troops into Africa, changes in the ROE?
GEN. DUNFORD: Yeah, I think it's premature to talk about what additional troops or changes in ROE we'd make. Look, we're watching very carefully, with the fall of Raqqa and Mosul, what the enemy will do. You see that.
In fact, that's one of the reasons I have 75 chiefs of defense or their representatives that are here tonight -- is to talk about the next phase of the campaign. I described it as an inflection point.
One of the places that 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, of course, the scenario we're talking about here today in west Africa.
So, we're watching that very carefully, and we are going to make recommendations to the secretary and to the president for the allocation of forces that meet what we -- what we see as the threat, what we anticipate the threat to be. But I certainly wouldn't talk about what we will do tomorrow, at this moment.
Q: For now, have the -- have the combatant commanders or the chiefs made any recommendations to the White House to change any of -- to change troop numbers, tempo, ROE...
GEN. DUNFORD: The White House...
Q: ... the White House spoken with you about it?
GEN. DUNFORD: ... the White House, no, but I -- but -- you know, 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 then we frame those for decision by the secretary of defense.
So, there's constantly requests for capabilities that go back and forth between the combatant commanders and the secretary. I mean, I don't think a week goes by where we don't work a request from the combatant commanders to do that.
And sometimes it's a question of reallocating capability. If you were talking Africa, we'd reallocate it wither from European Command or Central Command, and then reallocate it back when the particular mission is complete. But that kind of activity happens all the time.
I think what you're really talking about is a much more sustained presence with a larger footprint, and there's been no discussion, nor has there been a request for that.
Q: But troops that are on the ground right now -- will -- has there been discussion of increased tempo?
GEN. DUNFORD: There has not. There has not.
GEN. DUNFORD: Yeah, go ahead.
Q: ... thanks for doing this. Sorry for cutting you off earlier.
The -- you said that they overnighted -- the patrol overnighted from October 3rd to October 4th. Was that part of their mission plan that they'd put up, and that headquarters understood was going to happen?
GEN. DUNFORD: Yeah, I don't have the details of that. You know, I don't know whether it was intended that they would -- how long it was going to take, or if they had planned to stay overnight.
And, just to be clear, I think a probably more accurate description than "stayed overnight" was they caught a couple of hours of sleep after the 3rd and before they completed their mission on the 4th.
Q: Is there an investigation beyond the 15-6 into the troop deaths? And then what's the significance of the FBI being (inaudible).
GEN. DUNFORD: Sure, sure. On the first case now there's an investigation that's being conducted by a general officer at the United States Africa Command into the incident itself. So, 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 and 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.
Q: Quick follow-up on whether or not the troops were wearing body armor, the U.S. forces?
GEN. DUNFORD: I don't personally know how these soldiers that they were equipped -- if they were wearing body armor.
Q: More broadly, you talked about the difficulty of next of kin notification. Obviously there's a big political discussion right now about the right way to do that. Can you talk generally on just the difficultly, the challenge of conveying to American families when they're loved one is lost what they died for.
GEN. DUNFORD: One, I think what you just zeroed in on is one of the things that we try to do when we do this, and I've certainly had to do it myself, is you want the family to understand the why. And so, I think one of the most important things that we would try to do in this particular case is be able to explain how what they're loved ones were doing was related to the protection of the homeland in dealing with the threats that we confront, and, frankly, I think in this particular case we'll be able to do that.
Q: Just following up. Sorry.
GEN. DUNFORD: Yes, go ahead, and then I'll come back.
Q: Following up, Sergeant Johnson's widow said this morning in an interview that she had asked to see her husband's body, but had been told no. Is that the case? Is there are reason why?
GEN. DUNFORD: Yes, 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 review the remains.
At the end of the day, the policy is it's the family's decision as to whether or not they do 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. And certainly, again, from a policy perspective, we would typically defer her to the family’s desires, and we do that.
But I don't know exactly what happened in the exchange with Mrs. Johnson, and what would have normally been the casualty assistance officer that would have been supporting her.
Q: As a follow up, if it does turn out that she's not given the option to view her husband's body, is it something that you will be looking further into?
GEN. DUNFORD: I mean, I don't want to speculate whether she -- that causes me to speculate whether -- what exactly happened, but I can assure you that if Mrs. Johnson or any of the families of the fallen are unsatisfied with the support that 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 questions. I mean, that's what we do in each and every one of these cases.
With Mrs. Johnson, certainly. With all four of the fallen in this particular case, and frankly anyone in the department that gives their lives on behalf of our country, we're going to try to do everything we can to answer those families' questions.
Q: Just as a follow up, who found Sergeant Johnson's body? (Inaudible)
GEN. DUNFORD: There's initial reports, and, again, my understanding is the body was reported by Nigerien forces to U.S. forces. And I'm going out a little bit on that one, because I feel pretty comfortable that that's what the reporting was, but again, you know, from the investigation we'll get those final details, but that's the initial report.
Right there in the back.
I'm sorry. I'm going to come back.
Q: So, as ISIS decentralizes and the U.S. military looks to partner with a number of partner nations to attack it across 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 that they're maybe not familiar with?
GEN. DUNFORD: Well, you know, 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.
So, 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 area of hostilities, I would tell you, no, it won't be a matter of routine that we'll suffer casualties.
We will, unfortunately, in a war that has been described as a generational war, have additional casualties in the future, and we'll do all we can to mitigate it. But, when we're conducting these kinds of operations which we call "train, advise and assist," we don't in the normal course of events accompany those local partnered forces when contact with the enemy is expected.
So, we either -- we do one of two things. We either stay back at what we call the last covered and conceal position, right -- so 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.
OK. Yes, ma'am?
Q: Fair to say that the war on ISIS is shifting right now to Africa?
GEN. DUNFORD: 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. We've seen 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 Raqqa and Mosul. They will attempt to establish -- and that's exactly why we're conducting the kind of operations we're conducting in Niger -- is to ensure that local forces have the capability to prevent that from happening.
STAFF: Ladies and gentlemen, you have time for about two more questions.
GEN. DUNFORD: Courtney?
Q: OK, 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.?
GEN. DUNFORD: You know, I don't -- 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 who 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.
Q: And then can you just give us a full -- a time from 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?
GEN. DUNFORD: Well, what I can tell you, Courtney, is that it was mid-morning, 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.
Q: 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 there was, or may have been, in the area of the attack, leading up to the attack?
GEN. DUNFORD: 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 rotary-wing, the attack helicopters, as well as the fixed-wing. So, I don't have any doubt that all of the information that the French have available will be shared with our investigating.
Q: ... classified intelligence, but on their side?
GEN. DUNFORD: That's happening every day. There's no doubt about it. I mean, we are -- we are integrated in conducting operations with the French. We are -- we are partnered with them there. So, we have complete transparency in sharing information in west Africa with the French.
Q: And if I could just follow up really quickly, you mentioned national assets that deployed from the United States. Without, you know, specifying what those national assets were, can you say if any of them actually reached Niger before the situation was (inaudible)?
GEN. DUNFORD: Yes, honestly I'm not going to address that. I do want you to know that we have things, I think, and 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 to details or the type of capability. In the back, there.
Q: Sir, should the American public be prepared for the loss of more U.S. troops in Africa?
GEN. DUNFORD: What I would tell you is 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 will 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 recent days, we have a different type of operation against Al-Qaeda, Al-Shabaab and Al-Qaeda organizations inside of east Africa. So, 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 had -- 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, United States forces are going to deal with that threat. But the bias is towards enabling local, African partners to conduct operations in Africa.
Q: Clarity on the timeline of the Medevac, sir? How long did it take before the casualties were Medevac'd and then how long did it take before the dead Americans were returned on the contractor flight?
GEN. DUNFORD: OK, what I outlined for you earlier was the evening of -- during the firefights, this is probably sometime late in the afternoon into 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. So, if you're asking for a time between when they were wounded and when they were evacuated, I don't have that.
And in terms of the soldiers that were killed in action, they were evacuated in the evening -- that's local time in Niger, in the evening on the 4th of October.
Q: And do you have an idea of just how long the firefight lasted and did the Mirages play any role in disrupting the firefight?
GEN. DUNFORD: Anything I would tell you about the mirages and I've seen some of it would be speculation so we'll get -- what I need to hear from the guys that were on the ground who were actually employing those mirages before I'd make a conclusion about what effect those mirages had.
Q: But the time -- the time of the firefight, do you have a general sense of how long it took place?
GEN. DUNFORD: Only that it took several hours. I mean, well into the evening on the 3rd of October.
Q: Sir one last...
GEN. DUNFORD: On the -- sorry, on the 4th of October. Thank you.
Q: Could you let us know how many U.S. forces are serving in AFRICOM total, west and east Africa right now, maybe a potential breakdown?
GEN. DUNFORD: Yes, sure I can. I can give you -- I'll give you a range. We have on the order of 6,000 -- a little over 6,000 forces in Africa and they're in about 53 different countries.
Q: General Dunford, on the search for Sergeant Johnson's body, can you tell us how many U.S. troops took part in that search and how many partnered in allied forces as well and describe not just the drone that went in to look for him but maybe other assets as well?
GEN. DUNFORD: I can't. The -- that's again, that's down to the level of detail that is really going to require the investigation to lay all of that out.
Q: How many U.S. troops took part in the search?
GEN. DUNFORD: I can't tell you -- and 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 would tell you at this point, I'd be speculating.
Q: (Inaudible) to clarify, you said that U.S. forces don't go out if they expect enemy contact. They -- they won't go out with a – a partner force...
(CROSSTALK) GEN. DUNFORD: Yes, the exact language in it -- again, I don't want to be. Again, I'm not correcting you but it -- when we -- we say chances of enemy contact unlikely, we would go out.
Q: You also said that -- that they won't go out. They will remain in -- remain in at the last cover and conceal position if there -- if there is...
GEN. DUNFORD: There are different locations with -- with different rules in those -- in those locations. What I described to you were the rules that were in place at the time this operation was conducted in Niger.
I'll take one -- one more and -- yes?
Q: (Inaudible) says that this is Trump's Benghazi. I know you don't like getting into political muck, but...
GEN. DUNFORD: How'd you figure that out? (Laughter.)
Q: You have a track record. You have a track record in not wanting to. But it's out there. Can you -- what's your reaction to...
GEN. DUNFORD: Look, I personally see no utility in comparing this incident to any other incident.
What I would tell you is, we lost four Americans in this incident. We had two others 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, besides from getting the facts, is identifying those things that we can do better in the future. And that's my focus.
OK. All right. Hey, thanks. Thanks.