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Patrick Shanahan opens new review into 2017 Niger ambush that killed 4 Americans

CNN logo CNN 4/4/2019 By Ryan Browne and Barbara Starr, CNN
a man wearing a suit and tie talking on a cell phone: Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan (R) speaks with reporters as he awaits the arrival of NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the Pentagon in Washington, DC, on January 28, 2019. (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP)        (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images) © JIM WATSON/AFP/AFP/Getty Images Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan (R) speaks with reporters as he awaits the arrival of NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the Pentagon in Washington, DC, on January 28, 2019. (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP) (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

The Pentagon announced Thursday that acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan "has initiated a new, narrowly-scoped review into the Niger incident" that resulted in the death of four Americans in October 2017, according to a statement from Department of Defense spokesman Tom Crosson.

The new review will be led by a four-star flag officer and will recommend any "additional accountability measures."

CNN reported last week that Shanahan was seeking to tap a senior US military officer to oversee possible punishments and re-open the probe relating to the ambush, a move that caught several senior officials by surprise.

Shanahan appeared to reveal the existence of the new review last month during his testimony before the House Armed Services Committee.

"When I came into this role, the recommendation was brought to me that Secretary (James) Mattis had, he had convened a review, and that recommendation was brought to me. I did not find that sufficient, so I convened my own review, so I can ensure from top to bottom, there's the appropriate accountability. I do not know when that will be complete, but I have to assume that much of the work that's been done to date can be used," Shanahan said at the time.

The shift from a "top to bottom" review described by Shanahan to one that the Pentagon is now describing as "narrowly scoped" could signal a change in the nature of the review from what Shanahan had initially intended.

Immediately following his comments to Congress, Shanahan told reporters at the Pentagon that he would "clarify" his comments on the re-opening of the probe via a statement the following day, however today's clarification comes more than a week later.

Officials previously told CNN that Shanahan had initially intended to tap Gen. Michael Xavier Garrett, the commander of US Army Forces Command, to oversee the review and serve as the Consolidated Disposition Authority, a military designation that allows a senior military officer to fully review a matter and ensure accountability actions are taken including possible criminal charges or other administrative measures.

Shanahan even went as far as to approve an unsent memo designating Garrett, but he has since changed his mind and is seeking a new officer for the post, according to an administration official directly familiar with the effort.

It was not clear in Thursday's statement whether the overseeing officer mentioned will have similar authority.

Shanahan's efforts come nearly a year after the completion of the first fact-finding investigation into the incident and several months after military commanders provided their own recommendations to then-secretary Mattis as to what punishments should be issued.

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