NIAMEY, Niger — The body of Sgt. La David Johnson, one of four U.S. soldiers killed in an ambush by Islamist militants in Niger last month, was found with his arms tied and a gaping wound at the back of his head, according to two villagers, suggesting that he may have been captured and then executed.
The Washington Post reports that Adamou Boubacar, a 23-year-old farmer and trader, said some children tending cattle found the remains of the soldier Oct. 6, two days after the attack outside the remote Niger village of Tongo Tongo, which also left five Nigerien soldiers dead. The children notified him.
When Boubacar went to the location, a bushy area roughly a mile from the ambush site, he saw Johnson’s body lying face down, he said. The back of his head had been smashed by something, possibly a hammer, said Boubacar. The soldier’s wrists were bound with rope, he said, raising the possibility that the militants — whom the Pentagon suspects were affiliated with the Islamic State — seized Johnson during the firefight and held him captive.
The villagers’ accounts come as the Niger operation is under intense scrutiny in the United States, with lawmakers expressing concern that they have received insufficient or conflicting information about what happened. The Pentagon is conducting an investigation into the attack in Niger, where the U.S. military is helping the Nigerien government confront a threat by militants associated with the Islamic State and al-Qaeda.
Boubacar, a resident of Tongo Tongo, said in a phone interview that he informed the village’s chief after seeing Johnson’s body. “His two arms were tied behind his back,” he said. The chief called Nigerien military forces, who dispatched troops to retrieve Johnson’s remains.
“The back of his head was a mess, as if they had hit him with something hard, like a hammer,” said village chief Mounkaila Alassane. “They took his shoes. He was wearing only socks.”
The accounts could help explain why it to took two days to find Johnson’s body, while the other men’s remains were retrieved several hours after the battle. Johnson’s widow has said that the U.S. military advised her not to view his corpse, a suggestion often made when remains are badly disfigured.
The widow, Myeshia Johnson, has emerged as a prominent figure in the uproar over the Niger attack, accusing President Trump of acting cavalierly about her husband in a condolence call, a charge the White House has denied. She also has complained of receiving little information about what happened to her spouse.
Pentagon officials said this week that the investigation into the deadly ambush is expected to be completed in January 2018. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford has pledged an investigation and transparency into the matter.
“We owe you more information; more important, we owe the families of the fallen more information,” Dunford said last month. “That’s what the investigation is designed to identify.”