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White House blames protocol for delay in Trump’s Niger response

White House blames protocol for delay in Trump’s Niger response
© Greg Nash

The White House is blaming protocol on a 12-day delay between the deaths of four Army Green Berets in Niger and President Trump’s first public acknowledgement of them.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Wednesday there is a “process that is a standard protocol” for presenting the president with contact information for the families of fallen service members.

“The process begins with a [Defense Department] casualty assistance officer making next of kin notifications,” Sanders told reporters at the White House. “After that, they create a package that’s sent to the White House Military Office ... all of the details and the contents of the package have to be confirmed.

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“Once that process is completed, the president or other members of the administration can engage in contact.”

Asked if it was because of such a protocol that Trump hasn’t contacted the families of every service member killed in combat, Sanders said: “That’s my understanding.”

The press secretary said the so-called Pentagon package on the Niger deaths arrived at the White House on Oct. 12 and the White House Military Office confirmed the contents of the package on Monday.

Letters to the families were drafted over the weekend, which Sanders said “were sent once the confirmation was completed. Calls were scheduled on Monday to be made on Tuesday.”

Trump has faced scrutiny in recent days for his delay in responding to the Oct. 4 deaths of the four U.S. service members. The four were killed and two others were injured in an ambush by who the Pentagon suspects were self-radicalized Islamist militants. Military officials have said the soldiers were on a train-and-advise mission with Nigerien forces. 

A day after the attack, the White House said that Trump had been briefed on the matter. Sanders delivered a statement during the Oct. 5 White House press briefing, saying that the administration's “thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of the fallen."

On Monday, 12 days after the deaths, Trump was asked why he had not personally addressed the ambush. Trump said he had written letters to the soldiers' families and claimed that “President Obama and other presidents, most of them didn't make calls, a lot of them didn't make calls,” to families of the fallen.

The comments set off a firestorm of criticism from lawmakers and retired military officials alike, who accused the president of politicizing a sensitive topic.

Sanders again defended the 12 days of silence from Trump, saying “there is a protocol for that but there's also, we did make public remarks from the administration. ... I did that on behalf of the president and the administration.”

Lawmakers have also bashed Trump for not relaying any information on the attack, and for allegedly making insensitive comments to the widow of one of the fallen soldiers, which he has denied.