I wrote here about the attempt of Democrats to spin the Niger ambush into President Trump’s Benghazi. Other than the fact that both events occurred in Africa and resulted in four American deaths at the hands of terrorists, there is no material resemblance between the two.
The ambush of military patrols is a fact of life. The killing of a U.S. ambassador, after pleas for beefed up security were ignored, is not.
Steven Bucci, served America for three decades as an Army Special Forces officer and top Pentagon official. He is now a visiting research fellow at The Heritage Foundation.
Bucci provides some much need perspective on the U.S. military involvement in Niger and on the recent ambush. He writes:
The mission in Niger, which began in 2013, was a classic special operations operation. The type of operation is called foreign internal defense. That’s an old school term for the most fundamental task we give our Green Berets. A small team of them goes into a foreign country to work with that nation’s military to better prepare it to deal with its own problems.
This is not a clandestine Hollywood commando mission, or a suicide raid. It is overt and open. Its purpose is to build rapport with the host nation military, to improve its capabilities, to gather open source intelligence, and to get to know both the lay of the land and the local players.
The U.S. has conducted these kinds of missions around the world since the 1950s. At times we have had as few as a dozen of these operations, and at others several hundred in as many as 80-plus countries simultaneously.
These missions are routine and have short-circuited conflicts on nearly every continent in the world at one time or another.
Bucci stipulates that the missions are “inherently dangerous.” However, he argues, the return is worth the risk because “often, the use of a small, mature, and low-profile group of quiet professionals can have greater success than a large, high-profile deployment on a massive scale.”
This is particularly true with respect to combating groups like the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda when they move to numerous small or underdeveloped countries. The use of special operations missions allows the U.S. “to mitigate the threat before it grows. . . without making the U.S. the ‘world’s policeman.’”
In other words, “instead of fighting the terrorists everywhere ourselves, these missions help our friends to better police their own backyards.”
Based on Bucci’s description of these missions, we shouldn’t be surprised when one of them goes tragically wrong. He explains:
The teams that execute them lack the huge support mechanisms Americans have come to associate with military operations. Our troops know this, and regularly volunteer for the opportunity to participate in the missions simply because they know they work. . . .
They know that if trouble occurs, support is further away than in conventional operations. Intelligence is superb, often better than in regular military activities, but the logistical and response functions are thin and distant.
That’s why we only send professionals on such missions. These are not “kids” who just joined the military six months ago. They are hardened professionals who, yes, “know what the risks are,” and go without hesitation.
Frederica Wilson and the widow of Sergeant Johnson may not have wanted to hear this from President Trump and maybe Trump shouldn’t have said it — though Gen. Kelly told him that these words often bring some small comfort. But it’s absurd and rather pathetic to try to concoct a scandal over Trump’s words or the ambush itself.
It’s also absurd and pathetic to hear legislators express surprise that we are conducting operations in Niger. As Bucci says:
These missions have been extremely common since 9/11, so it is ludicrous that legislators now claim ignorance of both their existence and purpose.
Were these legislators asleep during the last 10 years that they were briefed by the commander of U.S. Special Operations Command and the combatant commanders of U.S. Africa, Central, Pacific, or Southern Commands?
Nothing about these missions is new, little is “hidden,” and none of it should surprise anyone who has spent more than a week on Capitol Hill.
As I said in my earlier post, we need to know if there were military and/or intelligence errors associated with the Niger ambush. But the military is investigating this. It investigates whenever any military member dies serving our country, and does not politicians or the media to prompt it to do so.
Bucci’s conclusion is persuasive:
The media and politicians should stop the showmanship and game-playing. Let Defense Secretary James Mattis do his job, and let the brave men and women of the U.S. military do theirs.
Grandstanding senators and talking heads don’t help make America safe, but missions just like the one in Niger do.