WASHINGTON — The Senate Armed Services Committee has temporarily blocked the promotion of one of the top Special Forces officers involved in the fatal Oct. 4, 2017, ambush in Niger, American officials said Friday. The attack resulted in four American deaths and exposed the U.S. military’s shortcomings in western Africa.
Col. Bradley D. Moses, the officer in charge of the Third Special Forces Group at the time of the attack, is the only officer in his unit involved in the episode to escape some form of punishment. His subordinates, all more junior officers, have been punished.
Colonel Moses was initially slated to be promoted to brigadier general after leaving his current assignment in Afghanistan. But at the request of members of the Senate, Colonel Moses, was removed from the initial list.
In the past, some officers were taken off the list only to be promoted months later, leaving Colonel Moses’s future unclear. On Congress’s website, he is listed as being “partitioned.”
A spokesman for the Senate Armed Services Committee declined to comment on the matter, citing the panel’s protocol not to discuss nominations or promotions under consideration.
Colonel Moses’s subordinate and battalion commander during the ambush, Lt. Col. David J. Painter, was punished after the attack but was still recommended for promotion to colonel. His nomination failed.
Colonel Moses had already once delayed the promotion list’s delivery to the Senate this year, according to officials. Before the Army referred his promotion to the White House and then to the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Pentagon, prompted by Senate inquiries, re-examined Colonel Moses’s role in the Niger ambush before he was approved for nomination.
Last summer, Patrick M. Shanahan, the acting defense secretary at the time, finished a final high-level review, which agreed with earlier findings that had mostly blamed junior officers and endorsed reprimands for eight Army Special Forces members and a two-star Air Force general.
The punishments focused on training failures before the soldiers deployed to West Africa.
Family members of those killed and even some members of the Third Special Forces Group had expressed anger at the multiple investigations, spread out over almost two years, and lack of reprimands for high-ranking military officials, including Colonel Moses, for ordering the 11-member Special Forces team on the mission without knowing the enemy’s strength.
Members of Third Special Forces Group wrote to members of the Senate calling for Colonel Moses to be punished, people familiar with the matter said.
In the months after the ambush, family members of the dead were not told that the Green Beret team’s leader had told his commanders that his soldiers did not have the necessary equipment or intelligence to make an unplanned raid on a local militant leader and had asked to return to base.
The team was told by Lieutenant Colonel Painter to continue the operation, a decision that was also approved by Colonel Moses.
But Islamic State fighters had been tracking the team and were preparing to attack. Five Nigeriens accompanying the Americans were also killed in the hourslong gun battle.
The four Americans killed — Sgt. First Class Jeremiah W. Johnson, Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black, Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright and Sgt. La David T. Johnson — all received posthumous valor awards.