24 Oct 2017

Widow of dead soldier hits out at Trump

6:10 am on 24 October 2017

The widow of a dead US soldier says Donald Trump could not remember her husband's name when he phoned to offer condolences.

Sgt La David Johnson.

Sgt La David Johnson. Photo: AFP

Myeshia Johnson, widow of Sgt La David Johnson, told ABC News it was the president's "stumbling" that had "hurt her the most".

Sgt Johnson was killed in Niger by Islamist militants this month. He was one of four US special forces soldiers who died in an ambush on 4 October. Mr Trump was criticised for not contacting the families of the dead servicemen right after they were killed.

Two injured soldiers were evacuated to the Landstuhul Regional Medical Centre in Germany and were said to be in a stable condition. Two days later, the body of Sgt Johnson was found, making him the fourth US soldier to die in the attack.

Mr Trump's call of condolence made headlines when Democratic congresswoman Frederica Wilson - who had heard it along with the family - accused him of insensitivity.

Myeshia Johnson appeared to confirm Ms Wilson's assertion that Mr Trump said her husband had known what he had signed up for when joining the military.

"The president said that he knew what he signed up for, but it hurts anyways ... It made me cry because I was very angry at the tone of his voice and how he said it," she said.

"The only way he could remember my husband's name was he told me he had my husband's report in front of him and that's when he actually said La David."

"If my husband is out here fighting for our country and he risks his life for our country, why can't you remember his name?" she added.

Myeshia Johnson wipes away tears during the burial service for her husband U.S. Army Sgt. La David Johnson at the Memorial Gardens East cemetery on October 21, 2017 in Hollywood, Florida.

Myeshia Johnson Photo: AFP

The White House later said he had spoken to the families of those killed in Niger but did not say when.

Mr Trump defended himself on Twitter on Monday, writing: "I had a very respectful conversation with the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, and spoke his name from beginning, without hesitation!"

He has dismissed the account of the phone call given by Ms Wilson as "totally fabricated".

Mr Trump said he had "proof" that Ms Wilson's account was inaccurate, but has yet to provide it.

Speaking to reporters, he said: "I did not say what she [Ms Wilson] said ... I had a very nice conversation."

The White House said Mr Trump's conversations with the families of dead servicemen were private.

Congresswoman Wilson told WPLG, a Miami TV station, she had heard the president's "insensitive" remarks on speakerphone.

"That is something that you can say in a conversation, but you shouldn't say that to a grieving widow," she said.

She added: "Everyone knows when you go to war, you could possibly not come back alive. But you don't remind a grieving widow of that".

Ms Wilson also accused Mr Trump of making Myeshia Johnson cry.

Mr Trump last week accused Ms Wilson of fabricating what he said during the call, tweeting that he had "proof" that this was the case.

In other tweets, Mr Trump called her "wacky" and accused her of "secretly" listening to the phone call.

Sgt Johnson's mother, Cowanda Jones-Johnson, told the Washington Post that Mr Trump "did disrespect my son".

She said she was present during the call and stood by Ms Wilson's account of what was said.

The row had escalated when Mr Trump suggested that former President Barack Obama had not called the family of his chief of staff, General John Kelly, when their son was killed in Afghanistan.

He responded to this criticism by falsely claiming that Mr Obama, and other former US presidents had not called the relatives of dead service members.

The details of how the ambush happened - and how Sgt Johnson's body went missing - are still unclear.

The US Africa Command said the soldiers had been providing assistance to Niger's "security force counter terrorism operations", and the US defence department said they had died as a result of "hostile fire while on a reconnaissance patrol".

Officials say the attack was probably carried out by an affiliate of so-called Islamic State. Some reports suggest up to 50 militants may have ambushed the group.

Islamist militants, including al-Qaeda fighters, are known to operate in the region.

US troops have been deployed in Niger since 2013. In a letter to Congress in June, President Trump confirmed there were 645 military personnel deployed there to support counter-terrorism missions.

The defence department has confirmed it is conducting a full review of the attack.

- BBC / ABC

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