By LOLITA C. BALDOR
WASHINGTON — Army Sgt. La David T. Johnson died in a hail of gunfire, hit as many as 18 times as he took cover in thick brush, fighting to the end after fleeing militants who had just killed three comrades in an October ambush in Niger, The Associated Press has learned.
A military investigation has concluded that Johnson wasn’t captured alive or killed at close range, dispelling a swirl of rumors about how he died.
The report has determined that Johnson, 25, of Miami Gardens, Florida, was killed by enemy rifle and machine gun fire from members of an Islamic State offshoot, according to U.S. officials familiar with the findings. The Oct. 4 ambush took place about 120 miles north of Niamey, the African nation’s capital. Johnson’s body was recovered two days later.
U.S. officials familiar with the findings spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity to describe details of an investigation that has not been finalized or publicly released.
A 12-member Army special forces unit was accompanying 30 Nigerien forces when they were attacked in a densely wooded area by as many as 50 militants traveling by vehicle and carrying small arms and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.
Johnson was struck as many as 18 times from a distance by a volley of machine gun rounds, according to the U.S. officials, who said he was firing back as he and two Nigerien soldiers tried to…