The Pentagon is trying to determine whether American forces involved in a deadly ambush in Niger this month diverted from their routine patrol to embark on an unapproved mission, military officials said on Friday.
The contradictions added to the major questions emerging about the attack: Had the soldiers acted beyond their planned mission without first gaining approval? And if they were given permission, who granted it?
Military officials have said that the troops were on a reconnaissance patrol, which means they almost certainly were out to collect information on the Qaeda and Islamic State groups operating in the area; the American military has a list of Islamic State leaders they are targeting. For that mission, the commander of the American team would have needed approval from at least one or two higher levels — a subcommand in Chad and a task force commander in Germany, where the United States Africa Command is based.
Once in the field, if the team wanted to change the mission to pursue a suspected Qaeda or Islamic State leader, the team leader would need to conduct a risk assessment and call for permission from his higher headquarters, according to current and former senior officials at the Africa Command who described how its soldiers conduct operations.