Senators demand info on deadly Niger ambush

Senators demand info on deadly Niger ambush
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Nearly two weeks after four Green Berets were killed in an ambush, top senators are demanding the Trump administration provide Congress with more information on the first deadly attack on U.S. troops in Niger.

On Tuesday, the Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee both said the Trump administration has not provided them with enough information on the attack.

Committee Chairman John McCainJohn Sidney McCainLive coverage: McSally clashes with Sinema in Arizona Senate debate Is there difference between good and bad online election targeting? Murkowski not worried about a Palin challenge MORE (R-Ariz.) even went so far as to say the Obama administration — which he repeatedly slammed as weak on defense — was better at working with him.


Asked by The Hill whether the administration has been forthcoming with information on Niger, McCain said “no.”

“I had a better working relationship, as far as information back and forth, with [President Obama’s Defense secretary] Ash Carter than I do with an old friend of 20 years,” McCain said.

Asked whether the “old friend” was Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisMattis says he thought 'nothing at all' about Trump saying he may leave administration Overnight Defense: Trump says 'rogue killers' could be behind missing journalist | Sends Pompeo to meet Saudi king | Saudis may claim Khashoggi killed by accident | Ex-VA chief talks White House 'chaos' | Most F-35s cleared for flight Americans are safer from terrorism, but new threats are arising MORE, McCain said “yes,” though he said the statement also extends to Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster.

“I think they had this idea that once Trump won that we are a unicameral government,” McCain said.

At issue is an Oct. 4 attack on a joint patrol of about a dozen U.S. soldiers and 40 Nigerien troops. The patrol was ambushed by what the Pentagon has described as self-radicalized, Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS)-affiliated militants, killing the four Green Berets and injuring two others.

It’s the first time U.S. troops have been killed as part of the counterterrorism mission in the northwestern African country, which has received little public attention. The United States has about 800 troops and a drone base in Niger, with another 200 troops elsewhere in the Chad Basin.

The Pentagon has said the attack happened in an area where multiple patrols had gone before without incident. French air support had to be called in to help.

The circumstances have prompted questions about whether the United States provided adequate force protection for its own troops, whether troops were prepared enough for the attack and whether the rescue response was fast enough.

Mattis has defended the response, but said the Pentagon is reviewing it to see what lessons can be learned.

“We will look at this and say, was there something we have to adapt to now?” Mattis told reporters last week. “We’re not complacent. We’re going to be better.”

Meanwhile, McCain has been furious for months at what he sees as a lack of communication from the administration. He has pledged to block Defense Department nominees until the administration provides more information on the strategies in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.

McCain told reporters the Pentagon was expected to provide information he’s asked for later Tuesday afternoon.

 “We’ve been waiting for weeks and weeks,” he said. “We will not sit by without having a complete understanding of what’s going on.”

Asked whether he expected Tuesday’s information to include more on Niger, McCain said, “We’ll find out.”

McCain’s comments echoed those of his committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedFive changes Democrats will seek at Pentagon if they win power The Hill's Morning Report — Historic, high-stakes day for Kavanaugh and Ford Admiral defends record after coming under investigation in 'Fat Leonard' scandal MORE (D-R.I.). 

“I think the administration has to be more clear about our role in Niger and our role in other areas in Africa and other parts of the globe,” Reed said Tuesday on CNN. “They have to connect it to a strategy. They should do that. I think that the inattention to this issue is not acceptable.”

Reed also alluded to the lack of information the day before, noting to reporters that his knowledge of the Niger attack did not come from an official briefing.

“The operation in Niger from what I know, and it’s not from an official briefing, was unexpected,” Reed said at a press conference. “It appears that the ISIS elements that were there had good intelligence of our operations, conducted a very sophisticated ambush of our forces. … The operation I think has caused us to begin to re-examine force protection in Niger and other places, and also our ability to respond proactively to ISIS elements in that part of Africa.”

The fact that four Americans were killed and that the attack took place in Africa has led to some comparisons to the response to the 2012 Benghazi attack, which prompted multiple congressional investigations.

Sen. Mike RoundsMarion (Mike) Michael RoundsOn The Money: Deficit hits six-year high of 9 billion | Yellen says Trump attacks threaten Fed | Affordable housing set for spotlight in 2020 race Lawmakers, Wall Street shrug off Trump's escalating Fed attacks GOP shrugs off dire study warning of global warming MORE (R-S.D.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told CNN on Tuesday that after more facts are gathered, “you may very well see the same type of a demand for a review.”

For now, though, Rounds said he foresees at least some congressional oversight.

“Any time you have a loss of life, any time you’re involved in an incident in which we lose young men, we lose young women, Congress has an interest in seeing what happened, why, where, were they in the right place, was there something that we should have done differently,” he said. “If we can learn from this, then we should be doing that.”