05 News DigestFor several years, U.S. special operations forces have been operating outside the public eye in West Africa. They have worked alongside local forces to counter various extremist groups. Few outside military circles paid any attention to the U.S. mission in Niger until the deaths of four American troops in an Oct. 2017 firefight. The three Green Berets were members of the 3rd Special Forces Group at Fort Bragg. Although Sgt. La David Johnson was airborne qualified, he was not a member of the 82nd Airborne Division, according to 82nd officials.

The incident report of the battle could be released in a matter of weeks, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said. “It is extensive, it is thousands of pages long,” Mattis said of the report, adding that “it is looking at all aspects, not just to this specific incident but to the broader circumstances surrounding that incident.”

Mattis cautioned that Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, commander of U.S. Africa Command, will set that timetable. Recommendations are expected to include tighter oversight of elite forces on the ground.

The New York Times said a draft of the report of the Oct. 4 attack by ISIS-affiliated militants calls for reducing the number of U.S. ground missions in Niger and stripping field commanders of the authority to dispatch troops on risky missions. Commanders in Niger currently have the authority to make decisions on when to launch reconnaissance patrols.

Cross Creek Mall visitor information center is closed

For many years, the Fayetteville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau staffed an information center outside J.C. Penny’s interior entrance at Cross Creek Mall. FACVB ambassadors volunteered at the center. It was closed recently by mall management, according to John Meroski, CEO of the bureau.“Due to other plans from the mall, the space is no longer free,” he said. “In today’s market, we are able to bring visitors information directly to them.”

He added that “the bureau’s mobile app, information in the hotels and local advertising in Up & Coming Weekly and Weekender are among many marketing mediums we use.” An information center is still open at the Fayetteville Transportation and Local History Museum on Franklin Street.

Human Services consolidation in the offing

After a closed session during a recent special meeting, the Cumberland County Board of Health named Assistant County Manager Duane Holder as interim health director, effective immediately. Deputy health director Rod Jenkins had served as the interim director since July 7 and asked that he return to his duties as deputy director. Holder provided the board of health a short update on planned human services consolidation.

In 2012, the North Carolina General Assembly enacted legislation that provided counties with new options for reorganizing and governing some local human services agencies, including local health departments and departments of social services. Commissioners have invited members of both boards to a presentation by the University of North Carolina School of Government about the reorganization and governance of local public health and other human services agencies. The presentation will take place Feb. 27 at 11 a.m. at the Department of Social Services office building.

Cold murder case resolved

Fayetteville Police have charged Howard A. Ashleman, 24, with the murder 3 1/2 years ago of James Allan Chambers II. Ashleman listed his home as in Wade, North Carolina.

Chambers was reported missing to the Fayetteville Police Department by his family Aug. 24, 2014. He was last seen the next day. The FPD’s Homicide Unit suspected foul play and assumed the investigation.

Earlier this month, homicide detectives brought formal murder and armed robbery charges against Ashleman. Police didn’t say how they got a break in the case. The FPD’s Violent Criminal Apprehension Team, along with SBI agents and Randolph County Sheriff’s deputies, apprehended Ashleman in Sophia, North Carolina.

Police have not said whether Chambers’ body has been found. Ashleman is being held in the Cumberland County Detention Center without bond.

Local bridge to close March 5

The Grove Street/NC 24 bridge over the Cape Fear River will close for about one month for repairs and maintenance work that will extend its longevity. The contractor, ACC West Coast LLC of Benicia, California, will make concrete repairs below the bridge and replace deck joints on the driving surface.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation awarded the $999,500 contract in December. DOT did not say whether an inspection had found the bridge to be structurally unsound. The bridge was built in 1974 and carries about 25,000 vehicles each day.

Preliminary work is already underway with the closure of both inside lanes. If Mother Nature cooperates, the contractor will close the bridge to all traffic. While the bridge is closed, local residents will be detoured using Person Street to Cedar Creek Road/ NC 53, Clinton Road and U.S. 301/Business 95.

Photos: Top row, L-R: Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black, 35, of Puyallup, Washington; Sgt. La David Johnson of Miami Gardens, Florida; Bottom row, L-R: Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, 39, of Springboro, Ohio; Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright, 29, of Lyons, Georgia.

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