Two weeks ago, a team of U.S. Army Green Berets along with about 20 Nigerien Army counterparts were ambushed by what was reported to be about 50 plus insurgents from the newly minted terror group known as The Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISIS-GS). The ambush was during a meeting with clan elders in the village of Tongo Tongo in southwestern Niger.
The joint U.S.-Nigerien Special Forces team was met with overwhelming automatic machine gun fire cobbled with a salvo of rocket-propelled grenades. The surprise and violence of the attack split the U.S. Green Beret team in two, and would claim the lives of four U.S. Special Forces soldiers along with four of their Nigerien counterparts.
To the men and women of the U.S. Army, 3rd Special Forces Group, where the Green Beret team was assigned, the loss of four of their comrades was a devastating blow. Yet, Americans who heard the news as well were just learning that the United States had not only lost four of its elite Green Berets in the west African country of Niger, but that the United States had elite U.S. troops in harm’s way in a country they had no clue the U.S. was fighting terrorists in.
The people wanted answers from the White House, wanted to understand what the United States was doing in Africa. Instead what they got was silence.
Having U.S. Special Forces in Africa is nothing new; their presence on that continent goes back decades. These Green Berets in Niger were conducting a train/advise/assist mission with the Nigerien military as part of an African Union counter-terrorism counter-insurgency coalition partnership, with members of the Permanent 5 (P5) of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). The United States, United Kingdom, France, and now even China have military advisors all throughout Africa.
The approval for these Special Operations African Union partnership missions on the U.S. side was proposed and voted on by members of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Oversight Committee with the current President of the United States signing off and/or adjusting the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) that was initially signed and authorized by President George W. Bush, shortly after the September 11th 2001 attacks.
This information is not readily known to those who are not paying attention to the goings on in Africa, and could have been a good talking point for the Pentagon to provide the public in the wake of four U.S. Special Forces soldiers being killed in a country that we are not at war with–in the classic sense of the word. However, they didn’t go the route of disclosure, and instead the command, along with the Pentagon, began to distance themselves from the incident and the Green Beret team. They alluded to a mystical “risk assessment” being rife with inconsistencies and possible false claims of the actual danger in the region, thus preparing to throw the Green Beret team under the bus in order to insulate their careers from any possible fallout.
The White House also seemed to be climbing into a cone of silence of sorts, and all but ignored the fact that the United States had lost four soldiers in a country we are not at war with. Instead, the White House doubled down on its demand that the NFL and its players stop kneeling and respect the men and women who fought and died for this country. They had the U.S. Vice President Mike Pence stage a counter-protest in Indianapolis that cost the taxpayers over $200,000 dollars to pull off.
While this was going on, Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou stood with U.S. Green Berets and eulogized both the American and Nigerien soldiers killed in the ambush. Issoufou declared the Green Berets heroes and brothers in arms with his Nigerien soldiers, and he offered his condolences to the families of the fallen. While Niger paid its respects, the U.S. President Donald Trump along with Air Force veteran, now Senator, Lindsey Graham played a round of golf.
However, this week President Trump was forced to acknowledge the four deaths of U.S. Special Forces in Niger in an impromptu press conference where he was asked why the Trump White House has remained silent about the attack.
Trump seemed completely unprepared to answer the question, and instead of taking a moment to think of an eloquent response, he bafflingly played to his base and blamed former U.S. President, Barack Obama. “[I]f you look at President Obama and other presidents, most of them didn’t make calls. A lot of them didn’t make calls. I like to call when it’s appropriate, when I think I’m able to do it.”
Trump went on to say that he wrote letters to the bereaved families, and they would be delivered later in the week. He said that he would be planning on calling the families this week as well. When asked where Trump had gotten his facts in regards to former presidents Bush and Obama’s past handling of U.S. service members killed in action, Trump replied, “As far as other presidents, I don’t know, you could ask Gen. Kelly, did he get a call from Obama? I don’t know what Obama’s policy was.”
Trump used his Chief of Staff and retired General John Kelly’s own son Robert, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2010 after stepping on a landmine, as a counter-punch to the questioning of his false narrative. General Kelly, who has tried to keep his son’s passing private and rarely speaks publicly about the loss, has yet to comment.
The Trump administration’s handling of the Niger ambush that claimed eight lives seems to have been a failure and has now been placed under “damage control” by the White House. And as a veteran myself, it seems confusing as to why this happened. The Trump administration has been hyper-focused on getting the NFL and its players to respect the flag and the men and women who fight and die under it, yet seems to have completely ignored the actual loss of service members lives fighting in the Global War on Terror. We have removed the grisly daily images of death and dying of American troops from the media because it’s easier to pretend there aren’t U.S. troops fighting all over the globe as we plow into our 17th year of war.
And by simply removing the human aspect from the politicization of the word “veteran” by this current administration, it makes it all the easier for politicians to use a group of Americans as pawns for re-election.
Feature image courtesy of: Associated Press