A senior Special Forces officer has been pulled from his leadership role in a security force assistance brigade which was preparing to deploy to Afghanistan later this month, apparently over his involvement in the 2017 Niger ambush, Politico reports.
Lt. Col. David Painter had been twice cleared of wrongdoing, per Politico. But his recent removal from his duties as battalion commander of 2nd Battalion, 2nd Security Force Assistance Brigade came after then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis “expressed dissatisfaction” with the investigations that ultimately cleared him.
Security Force Assistance Command spokeswoman Maj. Christina Wright confirmed to Task & Purpose that Painter was replaced with Lt. Col. Matthew Tucker in a ceremony on January 26, weeks before the unit deploys to Afghanistan.
On Oct. 3, 2017, a team of Special Forces soldiers — led by Painter as their battalion commander — were ordered to capture a high-value target outside Tongo Tongo, Niger, before they were ambushed by a large force of ISIS fighters. Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright, and Sgt. La David T. Johnson were killed in the battle.
The mission was beset with problems, to include lack of solid intelligence on the threat in Niger, a murky chain of command, and a lack of air support. In the aftermath, six soldiers received letters of reprimand, though Painter was not among them.
Painter approved and oversaw the first and second missions of the Special Forces team, and ordered the final capture mission, despite the team commander, Capt. Michael Perozeni, “pushing back on the operation,” according to the Times.
A former senior special operations officer told Politico that Painter was punished “because of the meeting with Secretary Mattis, not because of any new information.” He will be taking a “key staff position in a larger adviser headquarters,” Politico reported, while some close to the situation told Politico that there was concern about a new commander taking over the brigade heading for Afghanistan so close to deployment.
“You don’t change hoses midstream to a new commander who doesn’t know the guys as well and what they can do,” a member of the adviser brigade told Politico.