Senator suggests Trump is withholding info on Niger raid
The top Democrat on the Senate’s Armed Services Committee suggested Tuesday the Trump administration has not been forthcoming about the ambush in Niger that left four American soldiers dead — an attack President Trump has barely acknowledged after two weeks.
“I think the administration has to be more clear about our role in Niger and our role in Africa and other parts of the globe,” Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed said on CNN.
“They have to connect it to a strategy. They should do that. I think the inattention to this issue is not acceptable.”
Reed has become one of the first Congress members to call for an investigation of the circumstances around the ambush. The Trump administration has so far given no indication it will launch a review of the attack, which is the deadliest assault on U.S. soldiers since Trump took office.
Four fighters — Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright, Sgt. Bryan Black, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson and Sgt. David Johnson — were killed in a hail of gunfire Oct. 4 near Tongo Tongo. The attack also left four soldiers from Niger dead and two other American soldiers wounded.
Since then, little information has emerged about the men’s mission, the shooting or any subsequent investigations. More details have emerged from anonymous press leaks than the White House.
Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.).
The killing also brought new scrutiny to American military missions in Africa, which have received little attention stateside.
A senior U.S. official told NBC News the soldiers were training and advising Nigerien armed forces as part of a mission targeting Islamic militant groups in the area. Al Qaeda and ISIS have been using a route near Tongo Tongo to travel between Mali and a base camp in Niger, which also serves as a black market for militants.
Officials told CNN the soldiers were ambushed after finishing a meeting with local leaders. Twelve troops attended, with some going into the meeting as others waited outside to guard vehicles.
As soldiers from the meeting walked back to their unarmored trucks, shooters with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades opened fire. According to CNN, some soldiers at the meeting believed villagers were delaying their departure, which opened suspicion that locals may have helped arrange the attack.
None of the shooters have been identified or captured.
The ambush has left open questions about the legitimacy of intelligence received by U.S. military in the area, and the safety of the soldiers working there. An official told CNN the soldiers had received intelligence telling them an encounter with enemy forces was “unlikely.”
The United States is not formally at war with any African nations, but its African Command force has quietly built partnerships with at least 13 countries there. The military has said American troops in Africa focus on advising and training partner forces to fight militant groups festering across the continent.
Trump has publicly said little about American missions in Africa. He did not say or tweet anything about the Niger attack or its victims until a reporter asked him about it in a Monday press conference.
President Trump at a Rose Garden press conference on Monday.
Trump acknowledged he still hadn’t spoken to the families of the fallen soldiers, but said he would call them and send them letters soon. He also falsely claimed President Barack Obama and other former commanders-in-chief did not call the relatives of slain soldiers.
The mystery surrounding the Niger attack recalls the disputed details about a Trump-approved Yemen raid in January that ended with the death of Navy SEAL William (Ryan) Owens, the first soldier killed during the Trump administration.
Trump insisted the mission was properly planned and led to the discovery of crucial intelligence from an Al Qaeda compound.
But multiple media reports suggested the raid, which was initially planned under Obama, was carried out without sufficient backup and group support, and only led soldiers to terrorist training materials that had been known for years.
Owens’ father, Bill Owens, said he wanted a formal investigation into the raid. He also said he refused to meet with Trump when the President came to honor his son at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.