US Soldiers Ambushed in Niger Were Pursuing Escaped Militant: Sources

The military was investigating whether the mission changed as it unfolded

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Joe Raedle/Getty Images, File

The U.S. special forces unit that came under attack in Niger earlier this month had been pursuing a senior militant who escaped, multiple U.S. officials told NBC News.

The officials did not provide the name of the target, whom one of the officials described as an ISIS recruiter.

Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters Monday that the Green Berets set out on a reconnaissance mission, and that the intelligence suggested there was a low risk of contact with the enemy. He also said the military was investigating whether the mission changed as it unfolded.

One theory, said an official with direct knowledge of the military's investigation, is that the soldiers were gathering information about the target, and, after learning his whereabouts, decided to pursue him. A big question would then be whether the unit got authorization, and whether the risks were assessed.

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