Kaine demands answers on Pentagon missions in Africa

Kaine demands answers on Pentagon missions in Africa
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Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) on Wednesday called for Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman Mattis20 years after 9/11, we've logged successes but the fight continues Defense & National Security — The mental scars of Afghanistan House panel advances 8B defense bill MORE to release more details on the Pentagon’s advise-and-assist missions in Africa and elsewhere following the deadly Niger attack last year.

Of concern for Kaine is whether the Defense Department is using the label of advise and assist on missions “to narrowly skirt, and in many cases possibly cross, Congressional war power authorities — highlighting the need for greater oversight from Congress,” Kaine, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees, said in a statement.

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Kaine was among a group of senators who, earlier this month, received a closed-door briefing on the findings of the Oct. 4 Niger attack that claimed the lives of four U.S. soldiers.

The Pentagon also gave Congress a 180-page classified report, which confirmed that the U.S. team involved in the firefight initially embarked on a kill-or-capture operation, not a low-risk advising mission as previously portrayed.

The troops were searching for a high-value target and they later went back to an advise-and-assist capacity with the small unit of Nigerien soldiers they had been working alongside.

The troops were later ambushed near the Nigerien village of Tongo Tongo by a local affiliate of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Kaine has since raised questions about the military’s broader operations in Africa and said he thinks the military was hiding from Congress what it was doing.

In a letter to Mattis, Kaine asks for responses to 11 specific questions, including how accompanying missions are approved; who approves the use of U.S. lethal force or U.S. support to partner forces using lethal force when on advise missions; how many individuals have been killed or captured in Niger by U.S. forces or U.S.-supported forces since January 2017; and what limitations are put on U.S. forces in advise-and-assist missions to prevent them from engaging in direct combat with enemy forces.

Kaine also wants to know what “legal authority underpins any kill or capture missions planned or executed in Niger on October 3-4, 2017?" He also asks Mattis to list “all direct action operations conducted by U.S. military forces or partner forces supported by U.S. military personnel since January 2017 that have resulted in enemy casualties and/or detainees in the AFRICOM area of responsibility,” outside of Somalia and Libya.

In addition, he asks for information on if Congress has been notified of “any direct action operation in Niger conducted by U.S. military forces or partner forces supported by U.S. military personnel.”