A U.S. Army Special Forces weapons sergeant observes as a Nigerien soldier bounds forward while practicing buddy team movement drills during Exercise Flintlock 2017 in Diffa, Niger, March 11, 2017.
U.S. Senator Tim Kaine is accusing the military of hiding from Congress its true mission in the Niger ambush last October that ended in the deaths of four years old American Green Berets.
Following a classified briefing from senior Defense Department officials to the Senate Armed Services Committee, senators confirmed the fatal mission was to “capture-or-kill” a target and not merely an exercise activity with local forces.
“That would have been a very explosive briefing,” said Kaine, D-Va. “I have deep questions on whether the military is following instructions and limitations that Congress has laid down about the mission of these troops in Africa, and I’ve had those questions, and I think this hearing raised far more in the pretty explosive way.”
Kaine questioned perhaps the legal authorization to conduct a train-and-equip missions in Niger is “a fig leaf,” and said the briefing, “raises queries about why people are hiding from us what they’re doing.”
Asked whether he thinks the military is hiding how it’s doing in Niger, he was quoted saying only, “Yeah.”
A military investigation into the Niger attack that killed the American service members concluded the c’s didn’t get required senior command approval for the risky mission for capture a high-level Islamic State militant, the Associated Press reported in March.
Initial information suggested the Army Special Forces team set out on its October mission to meet local Nigerian leaders, and then be redirected to assist an extra unit looking for Doundou Chefou, a militant suspected of involvement within the kidnapping of your American aid worker. Officials say it now appears they went after Chefou through the onset, without outlining that intent to higher-level commanders.
As an outcome, commanders couldn’t accurately appraise the mission’s risk, according towards the officials, who spoke to AP on condition of anonymity.
North Carolina Republican Sen. Thom Tillis, whose state is home for the four Fort Bragg soldiers killed and Joint Special Operations Command, confirmed as soon as the hearing Tuesday that there had been failing to talk towards the chain of command the character from the mission.
“Clearly, a lot of things regarding their notion of operations, they made some mistakes, plus it costs our men their lives,” Tillis said, adding of military witnesses: “I think they understand it now. They readily pointed out problems and specific changes which have been made.”
There are already multiple narratives with the ambush reported. ABC News reported now that this soldiers killed in action were a part of a largely inexperienced and lightly-armed team of Green Berets and Army enablers have been outmatched by Islamic State fighters who exploited bad decisions by U.S. commanders. That team was providing backup for a separate American black ops unit which was actually hunting Cheffou.
Tillis said the briefing failed to touch on whether anyone inside chain of command have been held accountable, but he anticipated to evaluate if there would be any personnel action within the coming days.
Witnesses in the hearing included Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict Owen West, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Robert Karem, Marine Corps Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, the primary of U.S. Africa Command, and Army Maj. Gen. Roger Cloutier, Africom’s chief of staff.
Alaska Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan did actually read the troops were on a “capture-or-kill” mission and questioned why highly-trained special operations forces should be fighting in Niger if the new National Defense Strategy has marked an emphasis on competition with Russia and China and a shift from counter-terror operations.
“I don’t determine we’d like 1,000 troops in Niger,” he said. “You have this not just a teachable moment on the tactics, but about the broader strategic way of special operations forces towards the National Defense Strategy.”
“If we’re putting our highest value trained soldiers on capture or kill missions, the targets should be individuals who threaten the continent, our country,” Sullivan said.
Sen. Jim Inhofe, the committee’s No. 2 Republican argued the that U.S. needs to have dedicated troops in Africa.
“If you pull out from operations in Africa, you’re gonna have a very massive terrorist transition continuing to fall through Djibouti,” said Inhofe, of Oklahoma, adding: “They’re gonna go where there’s least resistance, and there’s previous that.”
SASC’s top Democrat, Sen. Jack Reed, said the committee has to check in in a very classified and unclassified way, “To ensure we understand what was over and what any problems, operational issues, resource issues are corrected.”
Future action would need to be led by Inhofe, that is leading the committee while its chairman, Republican Sen. John McCain, fights brain cancer in the home in Arizona.
South Dakota Republican Sen. Mike Rounds said the troop deaths call into question whether troops in Africa are receiving enough assets.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., said the briefing, “raises plenty of questions about future operations.” Asked when the military was changing anything as an end result, she said, “Well, they say they are.”