US investigators on Sunday returned to a village in Niger where four American soldiers were killed in an ambush in October carried out by Islamist militants, the military said.
The news came a day after the Washington Post citing villagers reported that Sgt La David Johnson, one of the four, was found with his arms tied and a gaping wound to the back of the head.
The discovery suggested he was captured and executed.
The investigative team, comprising US and Nigerien officials, “returned to the village of Tongo Tongo, Niger, on Nov. 12 in order to gain a clearer understanding of the Oct. 4 ambush, the attack site and the surrounding environment, United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) said in a statement.
“This mission allowed the investigation team to gather information and determine the facts related to the ambush that killed four US soldiers and four Niger Force Soldiers,” it added.
The US had previously said five Nigerien soldiers had died.
But the investigation — which is being headed by Major General Roger Cloutier, chief of staff to the commander of AFRICOM — won’t publish its findings until January 2018, the Pentagon said last week.
The ambush occurred on October 4 as a unit of 12 American special forces soldiers and 30 Nigerien troops returned from the village that is near the border with Mali, according to US military chief General Joe Dunford.
They were attacked by a group of some 50 fighters affiliated with the Islamic State group and equipped with small arms, grenades and trucks mounted with guns.
French forces sent a Mirage 2000 fighter jet to their aid but it did not bomb the militants for fear of hitting their allied forces.
Speculation about the incident has abounded in the US media, but the Pentagon has remained tight-lipped about the circumstances surrounding the ambush as well as the nature of the mission.