- The Defense Department has opened an investigation into the Niger mission
- Trump first weighed in on the attack 12 days after the soldiers were ambushed
Washington (CNN)How four US service members were killed in Niger -- and President Donald Trump's response to the attack -- has left the federal government searching for answers.
- 5:51 p.m. Initial reports of several servicemen killed in Niger.
- 6:48 p.m. CNN's Barbara Starr reports US forces operating with Niger forces came under hostile fire in southwest Niger, according to US Africa Command.
- 8:07 p.m. Trump, returning from Las Vegas on Air Force One, is briefed on the attack by chief of staff John Kelly.
- 7:36 a.m. US Africa Command releases a statement confirming "three (3) U.S. service members and one partner nation member were killed while the US was providing advice and assistance to Nigerien security force counter-terror operations, approximately 200 kilometers north of Niamey, in southwest Niger. Additionally, two US service members were injured and evacuated in stable condition to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany."
- 7:49 a.m. A US defense official tells CNN that "there are ongoing partnered operations in the area to locate those who conducted the attack on US and Nigerian forces."
- 1:08 p.m. A US official tells CNN that the US forces in Niger were ambushed by up to 50 fighters likely affiliated with ISIS.
- 2:21 p.m. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders opens the White House press briefing with a statement on the soldiers in Niger, telling reporters that the White House's "thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of the fallen service members who made the ultimate sacrifice in the defense of the freedoms we hold so dear."
- 7:29 p.m. Trump, during a photo op with military leaders and their spouses before a dinner at the White House, says the photo represented "the calm before the storm."
- 11:49 a.m. The Pentagon identifies three soldiers who were killed in Niger: Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black of Washington state, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson of Ohio, and Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright of Georgia. Notably, they did not identify Sgt. La David T. Johnson of Florida, who had been unaccounted for.
- 3:00 p.m. Multiple US officials tell CNN the body of a US service member who went missing following a deadly ambush Wednesday in southwest Niger has been recovered. The soldier was later identified as Johnson. The discovery of the missing US service member in a remote area of the northwestern African country by Nigerien troops came nearly 48 hours after he was first discovered to be missing in the wake of the attack.
- 3:05 p.m. Sanders responds to a question at the White House briefing about why there had been no response from Trump to the soldiers killed in Niger. "I made a statement on behalf of the administration yesterday in the opening. Obviously, anytime one of the members of our great military are injured, wounded or killed in action, that is certainly something that we take very seriously. Our thoughts and prayers are with those individuals. We're continuing to review and look into this. And as we have more details, we'll certainly let you guys know."
- Later in the briefing: Sanders is asked when the President was made aware that there was a fourth solider missing in action in Niger. She said that the notification happened on October 5, but could have to "get clarification on the specific timing of when that took place." Pressed, Sanders said that Kelly kept Trump "updated constantly on that situation as it evolved."
- 5:43 p.m. The White House announced that Trump spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron on topics including the fight against terrorism in Africa.
- 1:42 p.m. The Defense Department identifies the fourth service member who died after a deadly ambush in Niger. Sgt. La David Johnson, 25, died as a result of enemy fire, the Pentagon said. His body was recovered by US personnel Friday, they announced. US officials told CNN that his body was recovered in a remote area of the northwestern African country by Nigerian troops and came nearly 48 hours after he was first discovered missing in the wake of the attack.
- 11:21 a.m. A US defense official tells CNN that the Pentagon plans to officially identify Wednesday the Islamic State in the Greater Sahel (aka Islamic State in the Greater Sahara) as the terror group responsible for the October 4 ambush. The group was identified based on intelligence gathered by the US military.
- 2:06 p.m. "I felt very, very badly about that. I always feel badly. It is the toughest calls I have to make are the calls where this happens, soldiers are killed," Trump says. He claimed that past presidents -- including Barack Obama -- hadn't written or called the families of slain servicemen, though Obama spoke publicly during his term about his many interactions with the families of Americans killed in action. Later, Trump backtracked on the claim slightly, saying "I was told that he didn't often."
- 9:56 a.m. Trump, in a radio interview, suggests reporters ask his chief of staff whether President Barack Obama called him after his son was killed in action. (Kelly's son, Robert, died when he stepped on a landmine in Afghanistan in 2010. Kelly, a retired four-star Marine general, was a lieutenant general at the time.)
- 12:05 p.m. The Defense Department announces they are conducting an initial review of the mission in Niger
- Afternoon: Johnson's body is returned home to Miami, with the plane receiving a water cannon salute as it arrived near the gate. The soldier's widow, Myeisha Johnson, emotionally drapes her body over the casket as one of her children stands next to her.
- 5:52 p.m. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders confirms Trump has called the families of the four soldiers killed in Niger.
- Around 10 p.m. Florida Rep. Frederica Wilson tells CNN affiliate WPLG that Trump told Johnson's widow that the soldier "knew what he signed up for ... but I guess it still hurt." She said the call came shortly before Sgt. Johnson's casket arrived. (Wilson was in the car, listening on speakerphone along with Johnson's mother.) The White House declined to comment on Trump's conversation.
- 7:25 a.m. Trump tweets that Wilson "totally fabricated" what he told Myeisha Johnson.
- 10:30 a.m. Cowanda Jones-Johnson, who raised Johnson and also listened to the call, tells CNN Wilson's account of the call was "very accurate."
- 2:57 p.m. Sanders, pressed on information about the attack and whether the President is satisfied with what is known about it, declines to get into the specifics 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."
- 3:07 p.m. CNN reports that a US private aviation contractor conducted evacuations of US & Nigerian troops after they were ambushed on October 4 in Niger, according to US Africa Command spokesperson Robyn Mack. The reporting raised questions about whether the French and contractor crews were in communication and certain they picked up all the personnel from the battlefield, given that Sgt LaDavid Johnson was left behind.
- 3:12 p.m. Sanders defends the fact that it took nearly two weeks for Trump to comment on the attack, saying that is a "protocol" for when the President talks about a military operation.
- 3:32 p.m. Republican Sen. John McCain, chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, tells reporters that he is asking for information about the Niger attack but isn't getting the answers he needs. Asked directly if the Trump administration is being up front about what happened, McCain said, "no."
- 3:47 p.m. Politico reports that a staffer at the National Security Council drafted a statement of condolence for Trump that was never released.
- 5:56 p.m. A White House official tells CNN that the statement reported by Politico was crafted by the National Security Council, but when the White House press office received the information, staff decided it would be more powerful for Sanders to deliver this information from the podium in the briefing room
- 2:34 p.m. Defense Secretary James Mattis tells reporters on Thursday that the entire attack is under investigation. "We honor our troops, every one of them, every life is critical. The loss of our troops is under investigation. we in the Department of Defense like to know what we're talking about when we talk. So we do not have all the accurate information yet. We will release it as rapidly as we get it." Mattis also looked to defend other troops, given reports that one member of the team was separated from the group. "The US military does not leave our troops behind and I would just ask you not question the actions of the troops who were caught in the firefight and question whether or not they did everything they could in order to bring everyone out at once."
- 3:14 p.m. White House chief of staff John Kelly takes the podium during the White House daily briefing, outlining what steps are taken when a soldier falls in the field and acknowledging he coached Trump in how to speak to grieving family members.