Confusion around the attack that left four US soldiers dead in Niger earlier this month continues, with the Pentagon investigating whether the soldiers had left a routine patrol to chase insurgents without the proper approval, the New York Times reports. US soldiers say they "noticed" insurgents in the area while conducting a patrol—one the Pentagon says the team has conducted nearly 30 times in the past six months, according to NBC News—but did not chase them. US soldiers say the insurgents later ambushed them. But Nigerien military officials say the team, which included Nigerien soldiers, chased the insurgents across the Mali border only to be ambushed on their way back. A mission to go after insurgents would have required approval from higher-ups and would complicate the Pentagon's claim that the US isn't involved in combat operations in Niger.
The conflicting accounts given by US soldiers and the Nigerien military are just one more question surrounding the Oct. 4 attack, questions that include information as basic as what US troops are doing in a remote corner of Niger in the first place. A senior congressional aide briefed on the attack says the whole thing represents a "massive intelligence failure." The aide says the mission was being carried out without any overhead surveillance and without a "quick-reaction force" to step in if things went bad, which they did. He says the attack could have been much worse if French fighter jets hadn't shown up. A Pentagon spokesperson says any talk of intelligence failure is "speculation" while an investigation is still underway. Meanwhile, Al Jazeera reports at least 12 Nigerien troops were killed by insurgents in an attack Saturday along the same border with Mali. (Read more Niger stories.)