FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

US Soldiers in Niger: a Hidden Global Mission

Empires of scale are often spread thinly across fields of operations. Vast, often opaque functions on the ground are not necessarily conveyed with accuracy to the metropolitan centre. Command structures, for all the sophistication of instant modern communication, do not eliminate human error, let alone enlighten.

The four US army deaths in Niger have been shrouded by the bickering unfolding between President Donald Trump and the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson.  John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff, has also been catapulted into the sordid business.

What the Johnson episode has obscured, being rich as social media material, are the deaths of three others who perished with Johnson on October 4 in Niger:  Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright, Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black, and Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson.

The Washington Post write up on the fallen is a feeling effort to add substance to those otherwise obscured by the travails of the US empire.  Black was multilingual but also fluent in the Hausa language, as “he wanted to communicate directly with the people.”[1] This soldier of empire was similarly adept at chess.

Johnson “loved his country” and proved “loyal”. “For some, he was the beloved crazy uncle who never let a dull moment seep into his day.”  Niece Carrie Gomez’s words are noted:  “He was wild and outgoing. Just always on 100; always making you want to pull your hair out”.

These charming if potted accounts serve a few purposes. They add an understandable note of veneration for the fallen, but they also betray the sheer expanse of US deployments in foreign theatres, not all of which are understood in the padded cell of thought that is Washington.  Are these parts of a broader imperial mission, or merely the strutting efforts of a global police effort to keep terrorist elements in check?

Some 800 US military personnel operate in Niger, ostensibly to boost local counter-terrorism efforts. In total, some 1,000 operate in the Chad River Basin, spanning Niger, Chad, the top of Nigeria and the Central African Republic.

The four special forces soldiers were killed in an attack while patrolling with Niger troops near Tongo Tongo in the south-western part of the country, circumstances that will prompt some internal, not very pleasant probing. The skirmishing groups along the border with Mali are a motley assortment, varying between the plumage of Islamic State, led by Abu Walid al-Sahrawi, and opportunistic fringes of al-Qaeda.

Sketchy details of the sanguinary encounter have been sporadically supplied since October 4.  The Chairman of the Joints Chief of Staff, Gen Joseph Dunford, attempted to fill in a few details on Monday.   Help, it seems, was not sought till an hour after the attack had commenced.  French and Nigerian assistance duly arrived, but by the time Mirage jets were doing their best, two hours had passed.

What exactly happened?  Pentagon officials initially shot a finger at a self-radicalized IS group that had gotten lucky. According to Joint Staff Director Lt-Gen Kenneth McKenzie, US and Nigerien forces had “done 29 patrols without contact over the previous six months or so” with nothing so much as a sliver to suggest an imminent attack.[2]

Grasping for explanations, McKenzie fanned the murderous appeal of ISIS, which still “have a powerful message in the cyber world”, one which propelled “self-radicalization”.  The general, however, was unsure, claiming that there was “also some minimal flow of people across the divide.”  For all his doubts, it was unlikely that the attackers “were foreign fighters that came from Syria”.

The engagement could not be read as a failure on the part of the US mission.  Neither McKenzie nor Dunford would have you believe that.  ISIS was being challenged, lashing out like a terminally challenged animal in various outposts of the globe.  The attack “was a natural product of the fact that [it] is being crushed in the core caliphate.”

General McKenzie, along with his colleagues, have insisted that the US mission in Niger is heavily circumscribed, and by the book. They are not there to take part, let alone advise the forces of Niger in direct combat missions.

General Dunford has similarly insisted that there was on reason “to believe or not know that they did anything other than operate within the orders they were given.”  But these distinctions are academic points, to be slogged over by believers in operational doctrine and public relations.  What matters is the stretch, and expanse, of modern US power, the sort that doesn’t necessarily work, finding itself in bloody muddles, local grievances and struggles.

The US soldier’s imprint is a global one, finding form in theatres many citizens would be surprised, even perturbed by.  South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham went so far as to express open ignorance that 1,000 US troops were operating in Niger.[3]  They continue to apply the policing and erroneous language born in President George W. Bush’s war on terror, with all its conceptual and logistical nonsenses. As they do so, the bodies mount.

Notes

[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/checkpoint/wp/2017/10/23/trumps-call-to-one-widow-has-dominated-the-news-here-are-the-other-american-soldiers-killed-in-niger/?utm_term=.a6ef28c4323e

[2] http://thehill.com/policy/defense/355236-pentagon-suspects-green-berets-in-niger-killed-by-self-radicalized-group

[3] http://edition.cnn.com/2017/10/23/politics/dunford-niger-ambush-briefing/index.html

More articles by:

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

April 26, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
As Trump Berates Iran, His Options are Limited
Daniel Warner
From May 1968 to May 2018: Politics and Student Strikes
Simone Chun – Kevin Martin
Diplomacy in Korea and the Hope It Inspires
George Wuerthner
The Attack on Wilderness From Environmentalists
CJ Hopkins
The League of Assad-Loving Conspiracy Theorists
Richard Schuberth
“MeToo” and the Liberation of Sex
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Sacred Assemblies in Baghdad
Dean Baker
Exonerating Bad Economic Policy for Trump’s Win
Vern Loomis
The 17 Gun Salute
Gary Leupp
What It Means When the U.S. President Conspicuously and Publicly Removes a Speck of Dandruff from the French President’s Lapel
Robby Sherwin
The Hat
April 25, 2018
Stanley L. Cohen
Selective Outrage
Dan Kovalik
The Empire Turns Its Sights on Nicaragua – Again!
Joseph Essertier
The Abductees of Japan and Korea
Ramzy Baroud
The Ghost of Herut: Einstein on Israel, 70 Years Ago
W. T. Whitney
Imprisoned FARC Leader Faces Extradition: Still No Peace in Colombia
Manuel E. Yepe
Washington’s Attack on Syria Was a Mockery of the World
John White
My Silent Pain for Toronto and the World
Dean Baker
Bad Projections: the Federal Reserve, the IMF and Unemployment
David Schultz
Why Donald Trump Should Not be Allowed to Pardon Michael Cohen, His Friends, or Family Members
Mel Gurtov
Will Abe Shinzo “Make Japan Great Again”?
Binoy Kampmark
Enoch Powell: Blood Speeches and Anniversaries
Frank Scott
Weapons and Walls
April 24, 2018
Carl Boggs
Russia and the War Party
William A. Cohn
Carnage Unleashed: the Pentagon and the AUMF
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
The Racist Culture of Canadian Hockey
María Julia Bertomeu
On Angers, Disgusts and Nauseas
Nick Pemberton
How To Buy A Seat In Congress 101
Ron Jacobs
Resisting the Military-Now More Than Ever
Paul Bentley
A Velvet Revolution Turns Bloody? Ten Dead in Toronto
Sonali Kolhatkar
The Left, Syria and Fake News
Manuel E. Yepe
The Confirmation of Democracy in Cuba
Peter Montgomery
Christian Nationalism: Good for Politicians, Bad for America and the World
Ted Rall
Bad Drones
Jill Richardson
The Latest Attack on Food Stamps
Andrew Stewart
What Kind of Unionism is This?
Ellen Brown
Fox in the Hen House: Why Interest Rates Are Rising
April 23, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
In Middle East Wars It Pays to be Skeptical
Thomas Knapp
Just When You Thought “Russiagate” Couldn’t Get Any Sillier …
Gregory Barrett
The Moral Mask
Robert Hunziker
Chemical Madness!
David Swanson
Senator Tim Kaine’s Brief Run-In With the Law
Dave Lindorff
Starbucks Has a Racism Problem
Uri Avnery
The Great Day
Nyla Ali Khan
Girls Reduced to Being Repositories of Communal and Religious Identities in Kashmir
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail