New details on ambush in Niger that left 4 U.S. soldiers dead

Last Updated Nov 2, 2017 6:51 PM EDT

CBS News has learned new details of the October ambush in Niger that left four American soldiers dead and their bodies stripped.

They were part of a larger force of U.S. and Nigerien troops on a reconnaissance mission near the border with Mali, where Islamic terrorists are known to travel.

At some point, their orders changed, and the soldiers were forced to camp outside for the night.

The village of Tongo Tongo is so remote some Nigerien military escorts had trouble finding the road to get there. It's where the 12-member American team and 30 Nigerian soldiers stopped to get supplies.

Villager Adamou Bubaker said he saw three or four armed men on motorcycles approach the U.S. convoy. He was so nervous he walked 25 miles to speak with CBS News at another location.

"We thought if it's just a few terrorists, the soldiers can kill them easily," Bubaker said. "But we didn't know there were so many more of them waiting nearby."

It was a trap. Once the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters had managed to lure the troops away from the village, the numbers multiplied, and suddenly, they were under attack. You can still see the bullet casings left over from the intense shooting.

The burnt out shell of a school, blood stained bushes and empty boxes of ammunition are all that's left now.

Bubaker said there were at least 60 attackers armed with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades. The fighting lasted over two hours.

When it was over, Bubaker said he saw the bodies of three American soldiers slumped near their vehicle. All three were stripped of their uniforms.   

But it would be two days before children from the village discovered the fourth body of Sgt. La David Johnson about half a mile away. It's still not clear how Johnson got separated from the rest.

"Johnson had been stripped of his uniform," said a soldier who would only talk if his identity was concealed. "He told us his hands were tied and they'd shot him in the head."

The Pentagon would not comment.

There is still some confusion over why the American team had their mission extended, and what exactly was their assignment. But either way, it resulted in the Americans having to camp out overnight in dangerous territory that might have alerted the extremists to where they were.