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Senators Develop Selective Amnesia About U.S. Troop Presence in Niger After Combat Deaths

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:

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:

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.