Congressional oversight of the executive branch is only as useful as the members of Congress doing the oversight.
That’s the lesson to be learned from media reports filed yesterday and today in which U.S. senators claimed they had no idea the U.S. military had about 1,000 soldiers in Niger. The reports followed the combat deaths of four U.S. Special Forces soldiers after an ambush in Niger near the border with Mali earlier this month:
— The Daily Beast (@thedailybeast) October 23, 2017
Senators Lindsey Graham and Chuck Schumer were stunned to learn that 1,000 US troops were positioned in Niger. https://t.co/lWJQ92IcuD
— Jon Cooper 🇺🇸 (@joncoopertweets) October 23, 2017
McCain: "Americans should know what's going on in Niger." pic.twitter.com/4Bx9oUf8Di
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) October 23, 2017
CNN reported today:
“I did not,” Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pennsylvania, responded to CNN’s Chris Cuomo on “New Day” Monday whether he knew there were troops in Niger. “When you consider what happened here, the four sergeants lost their lives, I think there’s a lot of work that both parties and both branches of government need to do. Not only to stay more informed but to focus on why we’re there and what happened to get to the bottom of this.”
Several other leading senators also said they were in the dark about the operation in the western Africa nation.
“I didn’t know there was 1,000 troops in Niger,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, told NBC’s Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press” Sunday. “They are going to brief us next week as to why they were there and what they were doing.”
There seems to be a case of selective amnesia spreading through the halls of the U.S. Senate.
U.S. Africa Command officials have repeatedly briefed Congress on the troop presence in Niger in recent years:
A small number of US forces have been in Niger since 2013. It's been discussed at last 4 AFRICOM posture hearings. https://t.co/laQlajySaE
— John Noonan (@noonanjo) October 19, 2017
Also, both former President Obama and President Trump had formally notified Congress in writing about the U.S. military actions in Niger.
What are U.S. troops doing there? ABC News explains:
How many U.S. troops are there in Niger?
About 800, but the vast majority of them are construction crews working to build up a second drone base in Niger’s northern desert. The rest run a surveillance drone mission from Niger’s capital of Niamey that helps out the French in Mali and other regional countries in the fight against Al Qaeda, Boko Haram and now ISIS. A smaller component, less than a hundred, are Army Green Beret units advising and assisting Niger’s military to build up their fighting capability to counter Al Qaeda and ISIS. There are an additional 300 U.S. military personnel in neighboring Burkina Faso and Cameroon doing the same thing. They are there as part of what’s known as the mission in the Lake Chad Basin.
President Obama notified Congress in February 2013 about the introduction of troops there:
On February 20, 2013, the last elements of a deployment of approximately 40 additional U.S. military personnel entered Niger with the consent of the Government of Niger. This deployment will provide support for intelligence collection and will also facilitate intelligence sharing with French forces conducting operations in Mali, and with other partners in the region. The total number of U.S. military personnel deployed to Niger is approximately 100. The recently deployed forces have deployed with weapons for the purpose of providing their own force protection and security.
President Trump reminded Congress about their mission in a letter this past June:
Lake Chad Basin Region. United States military personnel in the Lake Chad Basin continue to provide a wide variety of support to African partners conducting counterterrorism operations in the region. In Niger, there are approximately 645 United States military personnel deployed to support these missions. In Cameroon, approximately 300 United States military personnel are also deployed, the bulk of whom are supporting United States airborne intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance operations in the region. These forces are equipped with weapons for the purpose of providing their own force protection and security, and they will remain in Cameroon, with the consent of the Government of Cameroon, until their support is no longer needed.
Just this past March, U.S. Africa Command head USMC Gen. Thomas Waldhauser testified before Senator John McCain’s Senate Armed Services Committee:
You can watch the whole hearing on the Senate Armed Services Committee website.
Around that same time, U.S. Africa Command participated in the multi-national Flintlock military exercise in Niger, which any senator could follow on the command’s Twitter feed:
— US AFRICOM (@USAfricaCommand) March 1, 2017
— US AFRICOM (@USAfricaCommand) March 4, 2017
— US AFRICOM (@USAfricaCommand) March 14, 2017
The four deaths earlier this month were not even the first for U.S. Special Forces in Niger. Warrant Officer 1 Shawn Thomas was killed in a non-combat accident back in February.
If senators wanted to know even more about U.S. personnel in Niger, they could just follow the news:
U.S. military personnel arrive in Niger: Obama in letter to Congress http://t.co/gdK5Ip8I16
— Reuters (@Reuters) February 23, 2013
In Niger, U.S. Troops Set Up Drone Base http://t.co/5b88O0y6A1
— The New York Times (@nytimes) February 23, 2013
Defense officials: U.S. troops in Niger to set up drone base http://t.co/jjIZ87nPAk
— CBS News (@CBSNews) February 23, 2013
— Stars and Stripes (@starsandstripes) September 2, 2014
As I noted here on Friday, there is a concerted effort by members of Congress and the media to use the deaths of these four U.S. Special Forces soldiers earlier this month to open up an attack on President Trump.
The Pentagon has opened an investigation into the incident, as it does with all fatal events. That investigation may reveal that there is cause for criticism when the facts are revealed.
But we are seeing selective amnesia displayed in recent days by members of the U.S. Senate, as they traffick in the deaths of U.S. soldiers in the service of partisan hackery.
If anything, this episode betrays which members of Congress are asleep at the wheel with their congressional oversight duties. If the responsibilities are too much for them to handle, perhaps it’s time for them to retire.