Trumpghazi: The new questions about the Niger massacre
So far, the biggest story to emerge from the killing of four elite American special forces soldiers is Trump’s botched call to the widow of Sgt La David Johnson – an insensitive, hot mess that was overheard by Johnson’s former mentor, Congresswoman Frederica Wilson (D-FL). Even the defense of the call yesterday by Trump’s chief of staff, John Kelly, turned into a fustercluck as he got fundamental facts about the matter completely wrong.
Naturally, the “liberal media” is more interested in the immediate sizzle than the steak, in part because the facts about what happened on the ground remain murky:
On October 4, Sgt. La David Johnson, Staff Sgt. Bryan Black, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson and Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright were killed when their 12-member team was ambushed by 50 radical Islamists Washington believes are linked to the Islamic state militant group (ISIS).
Details about their deaths remain cloudy more than two weeks later. Lawmakers have criticized the Trump administration’s lack of transparency and inability to disclose information that explains what led to the ambush on the soldiers providing counter-terrorism advice to Nigerien forces.
The Pentagon has defended the 48 hours it took to retrieve the body of Sgt. Johnson, denying that he was left behind. “We don’t leave anyone behind. He was separated,” chief Pentagon spokesperson Dana White said.
Sen. John McCain, who is facing a grim medical prognosis, has gone back into full maverick mode on many fronts, including a demand for answers about the Niger incident:
The Senate’s top Republican on military matters threatened Thursday to subpoena the Trump administration if officials are not more forthcoming about the Niger attack that left four American service members dead — just one of the steps lawmakers are taking to insist that Congress be read in on military operations before tragedies occur.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) is pushing the Trump administration to brief key members of Congress about the existence of ongoing operations — something he said the Obama administration was far better about doing than the Trump team.
“There’s a mind-set over there that they’re a unicameral government,” McCain said on Thursday, accusing the Trump administration of intentionally trying to keep Congress in the dark about the military’s foreign engagements and noting that “it was easier under Obama.”
“We are coequal branches of government; we should be informed at all times,” he added. “We’re just not getting the information in the timely fashion that we need.”
McCain communicated those frustrations to national security adviser H.R. McMaster during a Wednesday afternoon meeting with Armed Services Committee members.
McCain isn’t the only person on Capitol Hill with questions:
Other members of the committee were just as critical, alleging that Congress did not know the reason for special forces soldiers to be deployed to Niger, let alone on that deadly mission.
“These four soldiers being killed and most people not knowing what they were up to is a game changer,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Journal reported. “I’m concerned that we’re not regularly briefed about operations.”
“I’m all for going after terrorists,” Graham added, “but I want to know before I read about it in the paper where our people are and what they’re doing.”
McCain and Graham have some investigative company: the FBI is now probing the disaster.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has joined the investigation into how a group of militants thought to be Islamists killed four American soldiers in Niger two weeks ago, a move that comes as U.S. officials face criticism over their struggle to answer questions about the incident.
U.S. military officials said Thursday that they are trying to piece together a timeline of what happened, while lawmakers impatient for information criticized the Pentagon and White House for a lack of transparency.
The FBI’s involvement comes amid an absence of details on the ambush, which has become the center of a political firestorm over how President Donald Trump has interacted with relatives of the dead soldiers.
Bringing the bureau into the probe of a military operation gone awry isn’t unprecedented, FBI officials said. The FBI has the authority to take over the investigation but hasn’t yet done so, the officials said.
Rep. Wilson, for her part, is already comparing the Niger debacle to Benghazi, with justification:
The Florida Democratic congresswoman who clashed with President Donald Trump over his call to the widow of a soldier killed in an ambush in Niger wants Congress to investigate what she’s calling “Mr. Trump’s Benghazi.”
Rep. Frederica Wilson said Trump was slow to speak publicly about the ambush before her “dust-up” with the president Tuesday, when she accused him of being insensitive during a phone call with the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, saying Trump said Johnson “knew what he signed up for.” Trump denied that he said that; White House chief of staff John Kelly said Thursday that the president’s words were similar to Wilson’s recounting but that she had the context wrong.
“The circumstances are similar,” Wilson said. She said in Niger, the four soldiers providing counterterrorism training “didn’t have appropriate weapons where they were. They were told by intelligence there was no threat. They had trucks that were not armored trucks. They were particularly not protected. Just like in Benghazi, they were given the impression that everything was fine.”
CNN’s Dan Mecira has put together a useful timeline of events in the wake of the Niger attacks.
One reason why the attack occurred may be explained by one of Donald J. Trump’s most baffling and disturbing edicts:
Ever since the Trump administration unveiled the latest edition of its travel ban on Sept. 24, many observers have been puzzled by the inclusion of Chad on the list. Chad was not previously known as a major source of anti-U.S. terror plots, at least no more than several countries that aren’t on the list, and is in fact considered an important regional counterterrorism partner of the U.S. We now know the answer—and it’s very dumb.
CBS reports that as part of its security review of traveler vetting procedures, the Trump administration had required countries to provide a sample of its passports to the Homeland Security Department for analysis. That was a problem for Chad, because the country had run out of passport paper. … [That]
move might have contributed to Chad’s recent decision to withdraw hundreds of troops from neighboring Niger, where they had been part of the coalition fighting Boko Haram and where, as recent events make clear, the U.S. needs allies.
MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow went into additional detail on this story on last night’s edition of TRMS:
This morning, on CNN’s New Day, Major General James “Spider” Marks summarized several big questions that have yet to be answered:
“What were the intelligence assets available for the Africa command to approve this engagement?” Marks asked. “And I would never second-guess those decisions. When you do your forensics on all of this, there are higher priority targets someplace else that were taking intelligence collection assets away, that the folks on the ground had been given a good snapshot that this was a permissive environment”
“So the team worked desperately. you can only imagine they were fighting for each other,– there is incredible confusion, they haven’t seen anything like this in the previous 29 patrols they have connected in the area,” he continued. “They are outgunned, out-manned by ISIS fighters.,hey don’t know what’s going on. At the moment of the engagement, they don’t know what is taking place other than they are being shot at.”
“What was the purpose, what was the objective of this engagement?” Marks asked. “At the end of all of these, every time there is a death, you know, there is an investigation.”
So there is at least a partial “why” to the incident: Trump committed a blunder — one that led to the deaths of four elite troops — that could have been easily avoided had he consulted experts in the Department of State instead of obsessively building his White National Security State to please his ignorant, deplorable base.
While we still need to know the “what,” it can safely be said that based on the “why,” the Niger mess is far worse than that in Benghazi.
If you are already calling it “Trumpghazi,” as we are, you have justification. ‘Nuff said.