Mattis: Pentagon Reviewing Africa Patrol Rules

Response to ambush was fast

TAMPA, Fla.—Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Wednesday that the Pentagon will review procedures used by patrolling special operations commandos in the aftermath of a deadly ambush in the African nation of Niger.

Defense Secretary James Mattis

Defense Secretary James Mattis / Getty Images

Four U.S. Army Green Berets were killed and two wounded in the Oct. 4 attack by suspected Islamist State terrorists in the southwestern part of the country.

“A patrol that is an area where the enemy has not operated before was ambushed and hit hard,” Mattis told reporters traveling with him to Tampa. “And within 30 minutes the French airplanes were overhead.”

Mattis said the French aircraft were “fast movers with bombs on them ready to help.” Additionally, helicopters also were used to support the commandos.

Later Nigerian troops with French advisers assisted.

Mattis denied the reaction to the attack was slow.

“I completely reject the idea that that was slow,” he said.

However, defense secretary said the military will review how it conducts counterterrorism patrols in the remote region.

“We will look at this and say was there something we have to adapt to now?” he said, such as “should we have been in a better stance?”

The New York Times reported that the team of Green Berets in pick up trucks were poorly armed and outgunned in the terrorist shoot out. The report suggested medical evacuation of the wounded was slow.

Mattis insisted the reaction was not slow. “But we need to look at this. We’re not complacent.”

The retired Marine Corps general is making his first visit to Tampa since becoming defense secretary. He was met at McDill Air Force Base by Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of the Central Command.

He will meet with Votel and Socom commander Army Gen. Raymond A. Thomas on Thursday.

“Socom and Centcom are the two commands that have carried the bulk of the last 16 years of war,” Mattis said, noting that since 1990 Centcom has been in some level of conflict, beginning with the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

The two commands work closely in countering terrorists and are integral to the Trump administration’s new strategy in Southwest Asia.

Mattis said one of the concerns of the military now is dealing with the return of foreign fighters from Iraq and Syria as military operations in those countries squeeze the Islamic State from the territory it has held for the past several years.

The military is working with the international police organization Interpol to create a database on foreign fighters.

“It’s Interpol that’s going to have the database that we all feed into so police departments around the world can know when somebody’s showing up,” Mattis said.

For example, if a cell phone is found on the battlefield and identifies potential terrorists, the information will be used to prevent them from launching attacks in Europe or other states.

“This is how we track people like that,” Mattis said.

On the new South Asia strategy, Mattis said his talks this week will seek to align “military factors” with the other parts of the strategy, mainly a diplomatic effort to end the conflict in Afghanistan and military support to stabilize Iraq.

Regarding tensions with Turkey over the arrest of a Turkish employee of the U.S. consulate in Istanbul, Mattis said military relations have not been affected.

“Right now Turkey is a NATO ally of many decades,” he said. Turkey is the only NATO country with an active insurgency within its borders. So we maintain very close collaboration, close communication.
Military ties with the Turks have not affected operations at the U.S. military base at Incirlik and efforts to deconflict air operations in northern Iran and northern Syria also remain unaffected by the diplomatic spat.

Mattis declined to speculate on any worsening ties, noting that incidents happen in many foreign locations.

“It’s a NATO ally that we will work hard to stay aligned with against our common enemy,’ he said. “And we are doing good work together, military to military.”

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