Stunned to Discover We Have 1,000 Troops in Niger
The death of four soldiers has opened eyes to that
mission. It’s also raised a question: How can our
presence there be justified by a law passed in 2001?
By Betsy Woodruff
The death of four U.S.
Special Operations Forces troops in
Niger has generated
a raucous conversation about
how presidents should comfort bereft Gold Star
quietly, it’s fueling a more difficult debate than
whether a phone call or a letter suffices in the
aftermath of tragedy; mainly,
why were U.S. troops in the country in the first
place, and does
Congress need to exert more authority when it comes
lawmakers assiduously duck these questions. But on
the Sunday shows, several were forced to address
them in the aftermath of four soldiers dying under
still-mysterious circumstances near the small town
of Tongo Tongo. In the process, two powerful
Senators tacitly admitted that they hadn’t even
known the extent of U.S. involvement in Niger in the
Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.),
one of the chamber’s most hawkish members, told host
Chuck Todd on
Meet the Press that he didn’t know until
recently that a thousand U.S. troops are stationed
Graham is on the powerful
Senate Armed Services Committee,
tasked with overseeing the Pentagon. And he made the
admission when Todd pressed him on whether Congress
needs to vote on an Authorization of Use of Military
Force (AUMF) for that mission.
military determines who the threats are, they come
up with the engagement policy and if we don’t like
what the military does, we can defund the
operation,” Graham said. “But I didn’t know there
was a thousand troops in Niger.”
added that as long as American military activity
involves countering “radical Islamist fundamentalism
and the spread of it,” Congress doesn’t need to give
the Pentagon any special permission since, in his
view, the AUMFs that passed in 2001 was sufficient.
That AUMF, which sailed through Congress after the
attacks on 9/11 has been used as legal justification
for numerous campaigns beyond counteracting the
Taliban in Afghanistan; most prominently in Syria to
target ISIS and, now, as far-flung as Niger.
Schumer (D-N.Y.), the chamber’s most powerful
Democrat, admitted later on the same show that he
was just as ignorant as Graham about the number of
U.S. troops in Niger. When Todd asked him if he knew
previously about the thousand troops there, he said
it means, Chuck [Todd], for the war authorization,
is I agree with Senator [Rand] Paul (R-KY) that we
ought to look at this carefully,” Schumer continued.
“We are in a brave new world, you know, there are no
set battle plans.”
occupies the other end of the foreign policy
spectrum from Graham, has long argued that Congress
needs to have a vote on whether or not to
reauthorize American military involvement around the
globe related to the War on Terror.
should be a simple vote,”
he said in September.
“It is like pulling teeth.”
the Kentucky Republican remains in the minority.
a bipartisan group of Senators
have introduced an updated AUMF for counter-terror
operations, congressional leaders have declined to
act on it. The Obama administration had called for
an updated AUMF as well. And, recently, Senate
Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.)
called for a “sober national conversation about
Congress’ constitutional role in authorizing the use
of military force.”
the Trump administration
has not asked for new war powers,
arguing that the current ones are sufficient.
On Oct. 30,
Defense Sec. Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex
Tillerson will testify before the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee on the issue. Sen. Tim Kaine
(D-VA), one of the authors of the bipartisan AUMF,
has specifically invoked the four deaths in Niger in
arguing for a vote.
questions surrounding the death of American service
members in Niger show the urgent need to have a
public discussion about the current extent of our
military operations around the world,” Kaine said.
“For sixteen years, Congress has remained largely
silent on this issue, allowing administrations to go
to war anywhere, anytime.”
of Congress have to vote on such a matter, many
expect to face political blowback. And the
consequences aren’t hypothetical; there’s wide
agreement that Hillary Clinton’s 2002 vote to
authorize the Iraq War played a key role in her
defeat in the 2008 Democrat presidential primary.
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