H.R. McMaster on Niger Investigation: ‘The First Report Is Always Wrong’

H.R. McMaster
The Associated Press

White House National Security Advisor General H.R. McMaster urged reporters to be patient regarding an investigation of the military’s mission to Niger that resulted in the deaths of four American soldiers.

When asked about details of the mission, including whether President Donald Trump was briefed about the operation, he deferred to the Department of Defense to offer the “authoritative” account of the mission and the circumstances of the attack.

“When something like this happens, obviously the report does come to us, and as we say in the military — the first report is always wrong,” McMaster said.

He made his remarks in a Friday appearance at a Defense of Democracies summit during a Q-and-A session with reporters. On October 4, 40 to 50 militants ambushed a 12-person force, according to the Pentagon, during a routine patrol.

McMaster warned mission details that were revealed before the completion of a full investigation frequently turned out to be inaccurate, citing the distance between the conflict zone and Washington, DC.

He declined to reveal whether the president was made aware of the mission or whether it crossed his desk. The White House did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

“All operations that are conducted, are conducted based on approved policies and approved authorities — and those are under constant revision. Situations don’t remain the same,” he said.

The former Generals in the White House remain cautious of releasing important details of the operation, repeatedly referring officials to the Department of Defense.

“I actually know a lot more than I’m letting on — but I’m not going to tell you,” White House Chief of Staff Gen. John Kelly told reporters on Thursday.

During his conversation with reporters, McMaster said the environment in Niger was “complex” – especially during the interactions with the terrorists in transnational organizations like ISIS.

“No progress in any of these missions is linear,” he cautioned.

The former general also reminded the audience to expect casualties in the ongoing missions fighting terrorism – even when the military was working with native partners to advise and consult.

“There’s no combat mission, there’s no enabling mission operating by, with, and through indigenous forces that is risk-free,” he said.

McMaster also addressed Sen. John McCain’s statement that he had a better working relationship with the Obama administration than the Trump administration.

“I had a better working relationship, as far as information back and forth, with Ash Carter than I do with an old friend of 20 years,” McCain told reporters last week, referring to Secretary of Defense James Mattis and H.R. McMaster.

“It hurt my feelings,” he replied. “I love and respect Sen. McCain.”

He vowed to improve communications with McCain in the future.

“If Sen. McCain says we need to do a better job communicating with him, from our departments, from the NSC, then we’ll do it,” he said. “This is a problem that we can solve.”

The Department of Defense plans to brief senators about the attack in Niger on Thursday.