Debate raging over the loss of soldiers in Niger

Suicide Bombers Iraq, Norwegian soldiers NigerTerje Bruøygard, chief of the Norwegian contribution in Iraq. The mission of the Norwegian force is to train and advise a brigade in the Iraqi army. Photo C.B Hågensen,

The debate about America’s role in Africa is raging over the loss of soldiers in Niger

After four US soldiers were killed in Niger, the spotlight on the presence of the United States in Africa was addressed. Senators were unaware of how many soldiers were present there.


Several American senators, both from the Democrats and Republicans, have acknowledged that they did not know how many troops the United States had present in Niger after the killings. They also admitted not to know why they were there.

One of the most senior members of the Defense Committee, Republican Lindsey Graham, says that until quite recently he had no idea about US presence in the African country.


-The military determines who the threats come from, they come to an engagement policy and if we do not like what the military does, we can withdraw funding the operation. But I did not know there were thousands of soldiers in Niger, he told during an interview with CBS.

Democrat leader in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, made the same admission.

-I did not know that. We must look closely at this. We live in a whole new world now, where there are no clear lines of combat anymore, he says.

Points to Act from 2001

Schumer will take a closer look at whether it makes sense that a act from 2001 allowing troops to be deployed across the globe without the Congress’s knowledge or approval.

Generally, Congress must provide an authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) in connection with US foreign missions, but after the terrorist attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001, a law was adopted as an AUMF regarding anti-terrorist operations.

It has been used to defend a number of US missions, especially in the Middle East. Among other missions in connection with the fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan and in the war against ISIL in Syria and Iraq.

Bob Corker, leader of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, states that the loss of four US soldiers in Niger will open up for a major debate in Congress.

-There will be consultations in my committee on this. It may be time to update the rules that apply to US military engagement, given that the terrorists are scattered throughout the globe, he says.

Green berets

The 2001 Act has however already opened up for military operations in Niger and several other African countries.

About 6,000 US military personnel are currently in Africa, spread across 53 different countries, according to AFP, US chief of defense, Joseph Dunford, states. The number of US Special Forces in Africa has tripled from 450 in 2012 to more than 1,300 this year, according to official figures.

Two of the four Americans killed in Niger were so-called “Green Berets”, ie Special Forces. It is unclear whether they were killed in the search of local jihadists, or if it was an ambush.

The Pentagon maintains that the Special Forces are on the continent primarily to train local forces.

Expect more

But the overall goal is to prevent ISIL and radical Islamist from moving to East and West Africa after the jihadists have been ousted from the Raqqa Highlands in Syria and Mosul in Iraq.

Graham of the Senate Defense Committee met with Minister of Defense, Jim Mattis, last Friday, and after the meeting, the Republican Senator spoke of a “necessary” escalation in Africa.

-We will see more actions in Africa, not fewer. We are to experience more aggression from the United States against our enemies, not less, Graham says.

He also indicated that US soldiers would have more room for acting when it comes to the opportunity to engage, ie shoot first strategy, against “terrorist targets.”

The message may seem somewhat contradictory to the statement by Corker, which suggests that the rules must be tightened.

Facts about the US military presence in Africa

  • The United States has about 6,000 military personnel placed in Africa in 2017. They are present in 53 of Africa’s 54 countries. The last country, Egypt, is considered a part of the Middle East and the US also are present there.
  • In total, the United States has deployed 8,000 Special Forces worldwide, of which 5,000 are in the Middle East. 1,300 are present in Africa in 2017, against only 450 in 2012.
  • About 800 of the Special Forces are stationed in Niger. There, and in Chad, Mauritania, Mali and Burkina Faso, the United States supports a French-led operation against al Qaeda, Boko Haram, and ISIL in West Africa.
  • General Thomas Waldhauser heads the US Command Center in Africa, abbreviated AFRICOM. According to him, the United States also has a significant presence in Congo, Ethiopia, Somalia, Uganda, Sudan, Rwanda and Kenya.
  • The United States has only one formal military base in Africa -Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti. Additionally, the United States occupy a plane base in Moron, southern Spain, for operations inside Africa.
  • US Special Forces usually operate in groups of twelve, which train the training of groups of 300 local soldiers in the host country at a time. They usually participate only in missions where clashes with enemy warriors are considered unlikely.
  • The United States is considering increasing its presence in Africa, and Senator Lindsey Graham also opens up for changing the rules of engagement in anti-terrorist operations. This may mean that the soldiers have the opportunity to shoot first against “terrorist targets”.
  • US foreign operations are in principle to be approved by Congress. This happens through a so-called Authorization of Use of Military Force, abbreviated AUMF. an Act adopted after 9/11 has however been used as a general AUMF for a number of anti-terrorist operations in the Middle East and in Africa.

©  NTB Scanpix / Norway Today