Trump Says He Did Not 'Specifically' Order Niger Mission

Image: Donald Trump
President Donald Trump calls on a reporter before boarding Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington on Oct. 25, 2017, for a short trip to Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland and then on to Dallas.Andrew Harnik / AP

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By Ali Vitali

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Wednesday he did not "specifically" order the military mission in Niger this month that left four American soldiers dead.

The commander in chief told reporters on the South Lawn of the White House before he departed for Texas that he had given his generals that authority.

When asked if he had authorized the mission, Trump said: "No, I didn't. Not specifically."

"I have generals — they are great generals," the president added. "I gave them the authority to do what's right so that we win. That's the authority they have. I want to win and we're going to win, and we're beating ISIS very badly."

There are still many unanswered questions about the Niger ambush, which remains under investigation.

"We owe you more information," Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters this week. "More importantly, we owe the families of the fallen more information."

Questions also remain about the operation's planning, why it took so long to recover one of the bodies, and whether the U.S. had sufficient intelligence and equipment for the operation.

NBC News has also learned of an emerging theory that the Army Special Forces soldiers ambushed in Niger on October 4 may have been set up by terrorists, who were tipped off about a meeting in a village sympathetic to local ISIS affiliates.

While the mission itself is under scrutiny, Trump has been embroiled in a back and forth over what he said on a phone call to a widow of one of the victims.

Myeshia Johnson, Sgt. La David Johnson's widow, said in an interview this week that the president couldn't remember her husband's name during their phone call.

"I heard him stumbling on trying to remember my husband’s name, and that's what hurt me the most because if my husband is out there fighting for our country and he risked his life for our country, why can’t you remember his name?” Johnson told ABC.

Trump refuted the account — on Twitter and from the White House on Wednesday.

"I was really nice to her. I respect her. I respect her family. I certainly respect La David." Trump said. "I called La David right from the beginning. Just so you understand — they put a chart in front, La David. La David Johnson. So I called right from the beginning. There was no hesitation."