Trump Never Gave the Niger Sympathy Speech Written by Administration Officials

President Donald Trump did not give a speech addressing an attack on U.S. troops in Niger, though White House officials had drafted a sympathetic statement. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

President Donald Trump was willfully silent after American troops were ambushed and killed in Niger, reportedly ignoring a sympathetic statement the National Security Council had prepared on his behalf.

Trump never issued the statement or referenced it; in fact, for nearly two weeks, the commander in chief did not comment at all on the killing of four U.S. soldiers in Niger. Trump eventually broke his silence to criticize past presidents' responses to military deaths and attack a soldier's widow—and only in response to a reporter's question.

The original draft statement was approved by NSC officials and Defense Department officials soon after the incident, Politico reported. It remains unclear whether the president disapproved of the statement and why he did not speak publically about the attack, which at the time had only three confirmed deaths. The circulated draft read:

Melania and I are heartbroken at the news that three U.S. service members were killed in Niger on October 4 while providing guidance and assistance to Nigerien security force counter-terror operations. We offer our deepest condolences to the families and friends of these brave American soldiers and patriots. They will remain in our thoughts and prayers.
We are also praying for the two U.S. service members who were injured in the incident. We wish them a complete and swift recovery.
The heroic Americans who lost their lives yesterday did so defending our freedom and fighting violent extremism in Niger. Our administration and our entire nation are deeply grateful for their sacrifice, for their service, and for their patriotism.

The president never gave a formal address of the attack, nor condolences, even after the White House confirmed he was briefed on the deaths. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked at an October 5 briefing to explain why Trump had not issued a statement about the dead Americans. She responded that the administration's "thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of the fallen."

When Trump did speak in the Rose Garden on October 17, he falsely claimed previous presidents rarely called Gold Star families, despite that fact that they did.

The next day, Trump called the family of Sergeant La David Johnson, a U.S. Army Special Forces member killed in Niger, but he was later criticized for allegedly telling the soldier's widow and mom that he "knew what he signed up for," according to Representative Frederica Wilson, who was with the widow when the president called.

Trump denied the account and dismissed the accusations that he was insensitive.

The missing formal statement has raised questions not only about Trump's reaction to the events in Niger, but what actually happened in the desert that night. The Defense Department initially said three elite Green Berets were killed in a firefight with terrorists during a training mission near the Mali border.

But two days later, a fourth soldier, Johnson, was reported dead as well. It remains unclear how he got separated from his comrades, and why his death was not immediately known.

The White House has not commented on the Politico report.