Debra Gannon’s son, Sgt. 1st Class Jeremiah Johnson, was one of four U.S. special operations soldiers killed in Niger on October 4, 2017, when Islamist fighters ambushed their team. The clash near Tongo Tongo was the deadliest for U.S. forces in Africa since the “Black Hawk Down” battle in Mogadishu, Somalia, 24 years earlier. The foggy circumstances of the gunfight—the subject of much debate—have confused the families of the fallen, and the public.
Gannon believes her son, along with Staff Sgt. Bryan Black, Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright, and Sgt. LaDavid Johnson, fought heroically. But in an investigation into what went wrong, the military laid much of the blame on the team rather than its senior commanders. The Marine Corps general overseeing U.S. military operations in Africa praised special operations units for “serving well,” but pointed out, “This particular team is not indicative of what they do.”
The military’s conclusions stung the families of the deceased soldiers and contradicted what they were hearing from other team members and news reports. “That really infuriated me,” Gannon says. “They’re trying to make them look bad.”