Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) says he didn’t know. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) and minority leader Chuck Schumer say they didn’t know either. Nor did several other U.S. senators say they knew that the US has nearly 1,000 troops stationed in Niger, where four Green Berets were recently killed while on a counterterrorism mission. Other U.S. congress members said they did know, but so what? None apparently raised an eyebrow at the growing United States military presence in Africa— a presence that includes combat and has not been authorized, much less debated, by congress.
Actually, all congress members should have known, not necessarily because the Pentagon says it informed everyone, which may or may not be the truth, but because news of the widespread U.S. military deployment in Africa has been around for some time. I wrote about it in June, relying on the reporting of others on the U.S. “arm and assist” program that finds U.S. soldiers based in 24 African countries and perhaps double that number of “outposts” and other facilities. Niger is just one place—Somalia, Cameroon, and Mali are others— where U.S. forces are arming, training, and accompanying local soldiers on dangerous missions.
The U.S. military has not, of course, publicized these missions, knowing full well that they would get unwanted attention. But they are there, and the U.S. Africa Command has become a crucial component of the “war on terror.” As Nick Tulse wrote last April, the U.S. now operates “a constellation of bases integral to expanding U.S. military operations on the African continent and in the Middle East.”
I suspect that many members of congress chose not to take note of these operations for political reasons: to avoid being seen as questioning the pursuit of terrorists everywhere, regardless of cost.
Permit me to quote from the conclusion of my June 2017 commentary, which is suddenly quite germane to the dispute between the wife of Sgt. La David Johnson, one of the four U.S. soldiers killed, and President Trump:
If I were the parent of a service man or woman, I would be enraged that my son or daughter is being sent into missions impossible led, on paper only, by a commander-in-chief who is in fact AWOL. And if I were a citizen of Africa or the Middle East, I would be appalled by the Americans,’ and their governments,’ preference for guns over humanitarian assistance. Imagine what $24 billion in arms sales [to Middle East and African countries] since 2010 could have bought in public health and educational training, small business support, environmental protection, and other elements of human security.
Congress should get its act together and challenge not only the Niger mission, but the legality and strategy of the many other missions in and beyond Africa that put young lives at stake. Let Republicans like Graham in particular investigate the Africa missions with the same zeal they displayed over Benghazi. What The New York Times calls “America’s Forever Wars” must end.
Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University.