On October 4, 2017, four American soldiers were killed in an ambush by fifty ISIS-affiliated militants during counter-terrorist operations in Niger, a country located in western Africa. Following the attack, U.S. Forces met with nearby villagers and village elders who are believed to have intentionally stalled the soldiers in order to allow the militants to draw close and ambush the Americans. Some have indicated that the village residents may have even tipped off the militant fighters. These attackers are believed to be apart of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahel (ISGS).
American troops are stationed in Niger for a few reasons, one of them being to set up surveillance drone operation bases that are to be used in a joint American-French effort to free northern Mali from control of an al-Qaeda affiliate. Another faction of the troops are dedicating to training the Nigerian military so they can properly combat al Qaeda and ISIS. Additionally, a couple hundred more are stationed in the neighboring Burkina Faso and Cameroon. These troops were ordered by President Barack Obama beginning back in 2013.
The soldiers killed in the ambush are: Sergeant Bryan C. Black, Sergeant Dustin M. Wright Sergeant La David Johnson, all of whom were identified on October 6th, and Sergeant Jeremiah W. Johnson, identified on October 7th. More would have died, in the unit of twelve Americans and thirty Nigerians, had French Mirage jets not repelled the fifty attackers.
President Trump has received severe backlash for his handling of the situation, including waiting to comment on the soldiers’ deaths for several days, during many of which he was golfing. But this was eclipsed by the scandal that arose surrounding President Trump’s call to the widow of Sergeant Johnson, where he said, “He [Sergeant Johnson] knew what he signed up for…but I guess it still hurts,” according to Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL), who was listening in on the call. This has sparked a political debate over Wilson listening to the call, with Chief of Staff General John Kelly, whose son died in combat, criticizing this action, accusing Wilson of “being selfish”.
When President Trump was asked if he was aware of the mission in Niger, President Trump answered, “No, I didn’t. Not specifically, but I have generals that are great generals”. Many saw this as deflecting his own responsibility in the attack onto his generals.
Following the attack, General Joseph Dunford, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, held a press conference, announcing that the investigation into the attack is still under way, and many questions remain unanswered, specifically about why Sergeant D. Johnson’s body wasn’t recovered for two days after the attack. Gen. Dunford also announced that the unit was confident in their ability to face the terrorists on their own, as they hadn’t requested help until an hour into the fight. And while Gen. Dunford doesn’t believe that the unit was operating outside their orders, the investigation into the Niger ambush will encompass if the “reconnaissance mission” changed.
This has raised questions over executive war powers, with Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee John McCain (R-AZ) criticizing the “broad” powers of the executive branch during war;. Many in Congress are concerned about the lack of communication between Congress and the Trump Administration, as well, as many were unaware that troops were still in Niger. Ultimately, this scandal has made many realize of the vague and expansive powers of the President and the Joint Chiefs in the post 9/11 world, but there is little reason to expect this to change while the United States leads the fight against ISIS and their affiliated militants.
By Jonah Gold, Staff Writer