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Pentagon investigating soldiers death in Niger
03:30 - Source: CNN
Washington CNN  — 

A US private aviation contractor conducted evacuations of US and Nigerien troops after they were ambushed on October 4 in Niger, according to US Africa Command spokesperson Robyn Mack. Mack said that US private contractor Berry Aviation was “on alert during the incident and conducted casualty evacuation and transport for US and partner forces.”

What is unclear at this time is whether the private contractor airlifted the wounded and/or the deceased. CNN previously reported that US officials said French military Super Puma helicopters evacuated the wounded Americans along with those killed.

Contractor aircraft are typically not armed, though their crews may carry side-arms for personal protection.

This is raising questions about whether the French and contractor crews were in communication.

“In August 2017, US Transportation Command approved a sole source contract to hire Berry Aviation to provide one fixed wing aircraft and one rotary wing aircraft in Niamey for, among other duties, casualty evacuation. This sole source bridge contract runs through the end of this month, October 2017,” Mack told CNN.

CNN reached out to Berry Aviation to ask whether their aircraft conducted evacuations of the wounded or deceased, Berry Aviation President and COO Stan Finch declined to comment on any details but said that information “belongs to the customer.” Finch confirmed their government contract in West Africa with US Transportation Command.

Records show Berry Aviation has also done Defense Department work in Afghanistan, Central African Republic and Burkina Faso.

The website thedrive.com was first to report that a private contractor was used in the evacuations given that Sgt. La David Johnson was left behind.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Wednesday that President Donald Trump can’t be satisfied with the military operation in Niger that left four men dead, but declined to comment on the details of the raid.

“I believe they are still looking into the details of that. But I don’t think the President can ever be satisfied when there is a loss of life from men and women in uniform,” Sanders said when asked about Trump’s reaction to the details of the raid.

When pressed, she added: “I can’t get into the specifics of the raid at this point.”

The Defense Department is conducting an initial review of the mission in Niger and the ambush by 50 ISIS-affiliated fighters that left four US soldiers dead and two wounded.

Multiple US officials have described to CNN a scene of confusion on the ground during the unexpected firefight. The investigation will be an effort “to get all the facts correct,” an administration official familiar with the review told CNN.

CNN’s Zachary Cohen, Dan Merica and Jon Ostrower contributed to this report