U.S. Soldiers Died in Niger. What on Earth Are We Doing There?

By Peter Certo | ( Otherwords.org) | – –

When our soldiers kill and die in wars we don’t know about and can’t end, we’re not a democracy anymore.

In our military-revering culture, it’s a strange thing for a president to start a war of words with the grieving families of slain soldiers.

Strange, yes. But from Donald Trump’s campaign season feud with the parents of Humayun Khan, who died protecting fellow soldiers in Iraq, to his recent feud with the mourning widow of La David Johnson, who died on patrol in Niger, it’s no longer surprising.

At root in the latest spat is a comment Trump made to La David’s widow Myeshia Johnson: “He knew what he signed up for.” Myeshia thought that remark was disrespectful — she later said it “made me cry.”

Beyond insensitive, though, there’s a good chance it simply wasn’t true.

Why, after all, should La David have expected to die in a dusty corner of Niger — a Saharan country most Americans (and, one suspects, their president) couldn’t find on a map? And where the U.S. isn’t actually at war?

If you were surprised to learn the U.S. has nearly a thousand troops in Niger, you’re not alone. Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who serves on the Armed Forces Committee, told NBC he “had no idea.” Neither did Chuck Schumer, the Senate’s top Democrat.

Well, the surprises may keep coming.
The New York Times notes that the U.S. now has “over 240,000 active-duty and reserve troops in at least 172 countries and territories.” Count it again: 172 countries, out of 193 UN member states.

Most of us remain at least dimly aware that we still have thousands of troops in war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as in Cold War outposts like Japan, South Korea, and Germany. But what about the 160-plus others? And where are the nearly 38,000 troops whose location the Pentagon lists as “unknown”?

We catch an occasional glimpse of this global footprint when a U.S. service member dies someplace surprising — as Ryan Owens did earlier this year in Yemen, and a Navy SEAL did several months later in Somalia. More rarely we catch darker reminders still, when our wars abroad come home in the form of terrorist attacks. But mostly the American people remain every bit as in the dark as Graham and Schumer.

Americans like to imagine ourselves as citizens of a democracy that rejects the colonial ambitions of Old World powers like France and the UK. And yet we’ve deployed troops to literally most of the planet, and our leading lawmakers — tasked by the Constitution with the exclusive right to declare war — don’t even know about it.

Worse still, Congress appears to be abetting its own irrelevance.

Earlier this year, House Speaker Paul Ryan quietly killed an amendment by Democrat Barbara Lee that would’ve revoked Congress’ post-9/11 Authorization of Military Force, which has been used as a fig leaf of legality for this global war making. And last month the Senate voted 2:1 to reject an amendment from Republican Rand Paul that would’ve done the same.

Odds are, the real victims from our post-9/11 wars live in countries we seldom see or hear about. But as veteran and Army strategist Danny Sjursen writes, “the potential, and all too pervasive, deaths of American service members demand a public hearing” too. Especially when 16-plus years of war doesn’t appear to have made the world any safer.

When our soldiers kill and die in fruitless wars we don’t know about and can’t end, we’re not a democracy anymore — we’re an empire. And perhaps a fading one at that.

Peter Certo is the editorial manager of the Institute for Policy Studies and the editor of OtherWords.org.

Via Otherwords.org


Related video added by Juan Cole:

AP: “US General Admits Answers Needed in Niger Attack”

3 Responses

  1. up until a couple weeks ago,
    about 8,000 of those soldiers whose location is not reported were in Syria.
    While the government was telling us that there were about 1,000 there.
    I don’t know what’s happened in the last few weeks; maybe with the collapse of the notional adversary ISIS they will be withdrawn ?
    Or if the mission was actually to give Syrian Arab land to Kurds, we might see that number go up.

  2. Be assured with an inept Commander IN Chief like Trump and his enabling minions the GOP in Congress. There is no doubt that there will be plenty of more American dead service personnel.
    As a Veteran I find this situation beyond disgusting. I am not surprised that numerous officers are resigning their commissions.

  3. Peter – Reading your well-written piece asking “. . . . Niger. What on Earth Are We Doing There?” was a bit like having bees in the head. You hit many valid points but missed answering the basic fundamental question.

    Niger. What on Earth Are We Doing There?

    The U.S. is there to protect “vital interests in the region,” namely an upsurge in OIL AND GAS production. Niger oil sources are planned to connect to the Chad-Cameroon pipeline, a EXXONMOBIL/China project.

    link to reuters.com

    link to corporate.exxonmobil.com

    link to vanguardngr.com

    link to savannah-petroleum.com

    link to naija.ng

    The current Secretary of State is the recent former CEO of EXXONMOBIL.

    The primary reason our troops are sent off to die in these nasty places.

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