The narrative of what happened in the African scrub in October has shifted several times.
The executive summary said the Green Beret unit, known as Operational Detachment-Alpha Team 3212, departed from its base on a counterterrorism mission in the vicinity of Tiloa, Niger. It was accompanied by a unit of 30 Nigerien forces and targeted a local Islamic State “key member,” Doundoun Cheffou, who is suspected of helping in the kidnapping in Mali of an American aid worker, Jeffery Woodke.
The investigation found that the leader of Team 3212, Capt. Michael Perozeni, described the mission in a planning document only as a daylong trip to meet with tribal elders in Tiloa. Such missions are considered low risk, do not need approval from senior commanders and generally are undertaken without additional support for protection, such as air reconnaissance.
Counterterror missions of assault forces, by contrast, including so-called “kill-or-capture” operations, would have to have been ordered by senior military officers since they require reconnaissance and backup forces.
American surveillance planes were scanning the area around Tiloa, looking for evidence of Mr. Cheffou, as Team 3212 made its way north from Ouallam. Directed to turn its sights farther north, the surveillance aircraft found Mr. Cheffou at a desert campsite just two-and-a-half miles south of Niger’s border with Mali.
Another junior officer back at the base, also a captain, reported the discovery to a higher commander, according to the executive summary. The commander, a lieutenant colonel based in Chad, ordered Team 3212 to shift its mission from Tiloa and pursue Mr. Cheffou as a backup for an assault force that would be flying in from Arlit, in central Niger.
Although bad weather prevented the assault force from flying in, the lieutenant colonel ordered Team 3212 “to execute the mission,” according to the executive summary of the investigation. The colonel was within his authority to do so, the summary said, and he regularly updated his own commanders as the mission progressed.