The mother of a U.S. soldier who died during an ambush in Niger accused the Pentagon on Monday of lying to her family about how her son was killed.
Sgt. La David Johnson was one of four U.S. soldiers killed in October after an ISIS-affiliated group ambushed their convoy of 30 U.S. and Nigerien forces. His body was not located until forty-eight hours after the firefight.
“It hurts me because La David honored his job,” Cowanda Jones-Johnson told CNN on Monday. “And to be told seven different stories, it really hurts me.”
Jones-Johnson said the Pentagon initially told her family that her son was possibly in enemy hands and that he had activated his GPS which showed him changing location.
A U.S. official familiar with the details of the ongoing U.S. military investigation of the incident told ABC News that the investigation has determined that Sgt. Johnson had not been captured or executed at close range. Instead investigators have concluded that he died in the protracted firefight that ensued following the initial ambush by ISIS militants.
The Pentagon is expected to make the final investigation public in late January or early February.
“The investigation regarding the Niger incident is still ongoing,” said Major Sheryll Klinkel, a Defense Departments spokesperson when asked about Jones-Johnson’s comments. “The Department of Defense is committed to a complete and thorough investigation into the deaths of our four service members and we want to ensure the families of those affected have the facts prior to public release of the final investigation.”
Johnson fought to the end in a heroic fashion, firing until he succumbed to enemy fire, said the U.S. official who is familiar with the investigation’s preliminary conclusions.
The investigation’s conclusions are in line with what a senior U.S. intelligence official told ABC News in October. That official said Johnson fought back the militants with machine gun fire from the back of a pickup truck, before grabbing a sniper rifle and continuing to shoot.
“Without a doubt, his courage and bravery in action that day were above and beyond expectation,” said the official. “He died fighting for his brothers on his team. You can quote that verbatim. He grabbed any and every weapon available to him. The guy is a true war hero.”
Johnson was hit as many as 18 times by enemy rifle and machine gun fire, likely killing him during the attack, according to the Associated Press. On Sunday, The Associated Press first reported preliminary details of the ongoing U.S. military investigation into the Niger incident.
The soldier’s remains were discovered two days after the battle in thick underbrush some distance from the site of the ambush.
Jones-Johnson told CNN she learned about the leaked results of the investigation on Facebook last night. She said the family has had her son’s autopsy since Nov. 12, but she’s still seeking “the truth” from the U.S. government.
“If they would’ve just told us the truth behind the situation from day one, we won’t even be sitting here because we would have closure and we can move on from this,” Jones-Johnson said. “But there’s no closure because it’s like my mom always used to tell us. If you tell one lie, you have to tell so many lies to cover up that one little lie.”
She said the Pentagon hasn’t yet explained why Johnson’s body was located by Nigerien forces one mile from the site of the ambush. On Nov. 12, a team of U.S. Africa Command and Nigerien military investigators visited the site where his body was found and located additional remains positively identified as belonging to Johnson.
In a press conference following the attack, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford denied that the U.S. ever left Johnson behind, arguing that French, American, or Nigerien troops were in the area at all times until his body was recovered.
The senior U.S. intelligence official described to ABC News an all-out effort to find Johnson during those 48 hours, saying he was missing, but presumed alive.
“Until his death was confirmed, every asset was devoted to recovering him,” the official said. “We threw everything we had at it… Literally hundreds of people were focused on getting La David back.”
The three other Americans killed were Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, and Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright.