In Niger Ambush, Rushing Into the Gunfire to Save the Fallen

Smoke grenades were thrown to hide their withdrawal, and five of the vehicles made it out of the immediate zone of attack. But the black utility vehicle carrying Sergeant Wright, Sergeant Johnson and Sergeant Black did not make it out. Two Nigerien trucks also stayed, immobilized. The three Americans were killed around noon.

The five-vehicle remnant of the convoy pushed nearly half a mile south but came to a halt as it became clear that more than a quarter of Team 3212 was missing. Two American commandos volunteered to go back on foot and look for them, heading into the thick of the ambush site, where they shot and killed several militants.

The rest of the team remained behind, continuing to fire back at the advancing fighters. Two more American commandos then left that group on foot and headed back toward the ambush site to help in the search.

The militants continued to surge forward. For the second time, Captain Perozeni ordered the remnants of his team to fall back. Only two American vehicles were left; the Nigerien ones were immobilized. Captain Perozeni jumped into the bed of a truck driven by Sgt. First Class Brent Bartels, who drove around in a circle sweeping up Nigerien troops. Then, believing that the second American vehicle was behind him, he accelerated hard to the north.

But Sgt. La David T. Johnson, an Army mechanic by trade and the driver of the second American truck, had been pinned down by heavy fire and was unable to get back into the driver’s seat. He and two Nigerien soldiers ran west. The two Nigeriens were shot and killed within 1,000 feet.

Sergeant Johnson kept running, for almost a quarter-mile, before taking cover under the lone thorny tree in the scrub. He kept firing his weapon until the advancing militants surrounded and killed him.

The other American vehicle was heading north, still under fire. Five of the seven people aboard were shot. Captain Perozeni was thrown from the bed of the truck; Sergeant Bartels, wounded, turned around and went back to get him, then continued north until the truck got stuck in a swamp.