Missing in the Twitter war of words between President Trump and the Rep. Frederica Wilson, over the president’s call to the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson is this question: What were we doing in Niger in the first place?
Over the weekend, Trump called Wilson “Wacky Congresswoman Wilson” and insisted that she is “killing the Democrat Party!”
The brouhaha over the phone call, and whether the president was insensitive to the widow, is clouding that far more important question that no one seems willing to ask.
Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world, so it’s unlikely we’re protecting any strategic interests there. Even John McCain, R-Arizona, the chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee didn’t understand what the U.S. was doing in the country.
“We did not know about Niger until it came out in the paper,” McCain said. Wilson even went on to say that this whole incident “might wind up to be Mr. Trump’s Benghazi.”
Maybe, but probably not.
The surprise about U.S. presence in Niger isn’t really a secret
There is a great deal of surprise, however, from many who didn’t realize we had soldiers in harm’s way in Niger, although our presence there is not really a secret.
American troops have been stationed in Niger since 2013, when the U.S. was aiding the French in quelling an insurgency in Mali led by a group affiliated with al-Qaeda.
Initially, 40 troops were deployed, and that number has swelled to 800 in the past four years.
These troops are active throughout many countries in Africa, including Somalia, where a Navy Seal was killed in May.
All of this is being justified under the auspices of anti-terror operations. Given that ISIS is a suspect in the death of the four soldiers whose families recently received phone calls from the president, it’s clear that there are plenty of bad actors in the region.
All of this is completely off the radar of most of the American public, which is likely why there was no outcry over the fact that it took the president 12 days after the fact to mention the incident.
So much about the incident of our soldiers in Niger is still unknown
But there’s still way too much we don’t know. The official explanation is that the soldiers were killed “as a result of hostile fire while on a reconnaissance patrol.” Why was there hostile fire? Were these soldiers placed in unnecessary danger? Why did it take two days to recover Sgt. Johnson’s body after he was killed?
Democrats are calling for hearings, and Sen. McCain is threatening to use subpoena power to get answers. Certainly further investigation is necessary.
Whether or not Trump was insensitive in his call to a war widow is less important than understanding why she was widowed in the first place.
(Photo of an U.S. Army Special Forces weapons sergeant observes a Niger Army soldier during marksmanship training as part of Exercise Flintlock 2017 in Diffa, Niger by Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Klutts)