Don’t you know where your troops are?

The US is now in a state of permanent undeclared war in large parts of the globe. This has become such a routine practice that people at the highest levels of government, including those charged with oversight of the military, do not know where troops are stationed, how many, and what their purpose is. The US military is like a war virus, quietly spreading over the globe, out of sight from anyone except a few people in the military and the administration.

It takes fiascos like the deaths in Niger to bring these facts to light.

The dispute has revived wider concerns about the fatal incident – in which the US soldiers were killed during an attack on their convoy and five Nigerien soldiers also died – and about America’s role in anti-terror efforts in the west African state. Authorities suspect militants affiliated to the Islamic State were responsible for the ambush. Sgt Johnson was buried in Florida on Saturday.

Conflicting accounts of what led to the attack given by US and Nigerien officials have led members of Congress including John McCain, the Republican chair of the Senate armed services committee, to criticise the Pentagon’s response.

Senator James Lankford, Republican of Oklahoma, said on Sunday he shared concerns over the contradicting narratives. “At this point we have conflicting stories,” Lankford said on CBS’s Face The Nation. “We want to be able to get the full, accurate story and get it right.”

Lankford’s sentiments were echoed by Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, and Senator Charles Schumer, a Democrat of New York.

I didn’t know there was 1,000 troops in Niger,” Graham said on NBC’s Meet the Press. “This is an endless war without boundaries and no limitation on time and geography … You’ve got to tell us more and [McCain] is right to say that.”

Schumer, the Senate minority leader, said he was similarly unaware. Schumer said information being provided by the Trump administration was “not adequate” and should be re-examined. [My emphasisi-MS]

You have to take these claims of ignorance with a grain of salt. As the Niger episode threatens to blow up into a major controversy, people are going to try and distance themselves from it in order to avoid any blame.

But the fact that people like Graham and Schumer can even make claims of ignorance shows how out of control US military involvement in the world is.


  1. jrkrideau says

    I would not be terrible surprised that they did not know. According to “United States still maintains nearly 800 military bases in more than 70 countries and territories abroad” and most Americans including politician seem quite insular so unless they had a reason to be briefed on Niger there seems a good chance they would not know.

    I was surprised at the size of the US force in Niger. I had thought there was only about 200.

  2. says

    Congress has utterly shjrked its duty, part of which is to decide when the US goes to war. It has done so in order to protect its members from fall-out in the event it turns out to be a bad decision. So, when we (rightly) criticize a politician for having voted for the Iraq War, what the politicians here is not a demand for more thoughtful, principled, governance of the military -- they hear it as a “gotcha” to duck. None of them seem to care about doing the right thing, they’re just trying to guess which side they need to appear to support, and when -- to the point where you’ll have some of the sneaky bastards publicly speak out against war, but vote for it, or the reverse. That way they can point to whichever action is most politically expedient, later.

    We need to accept that the US’ “representative” government is no longer that -- it has been taken over by a collusion of partisan oligarchs who are no longer beholden to the will of the people at all. Unfortunately, they give us a stark choice of going along with it, or rebelling -- they are not just ignoring the will of the people, they are exploring how far they can stretch the Overton window (the answer is “far”) without a reaction. Attempts by the government itself to rein itself in, are mooted as quickly as they are put in place: the war powers resolution, debt controls, controls on military spending, controls on search/seizure and domestic surviellance -- whatever anyone tries to do to bring control is bypassed immediately. It’s out of control; it just hasn’t turned on us, yet. It’s still dealing with the rest of the world.

  3. says

    I was surprised at the size of the US force in Niger. I had thought there was only about 200.

    They have clever ways of accounting it. What they’ll say is “there are 200 training personnel” -- which means they didn’t mention the 1800 “logistical support personnel” or whatever. Now, they’re hardly bothered to lie, anymore. The Obama administration was simultaneously talking about “no boots on the ground” in Syria while actually invading the country It’s the same trick that worked in Vietnam. All those green berets who were out there killing the locals -- they were “trainer” contingent, and the grunts manning the fire-bases were “logistical support” -- it’s just that the “logistics” element is responsible for delivering heavy artillery fire. That’s the same trick they were playing in Iraq, back when they were still bothering to lie about it -- there’s a unit of US Army Paladin self-propelled artillery doing “logistics” in the form of flattening Raqqa and Mosul.

    Africom is carrying out assassination missions disguised as “training” to attempt to settle some of the more obvious islamist rebel movements. They’ve also got a full panoply of “logistics” along, in the form of armed predator drones.

  4. wsierichs says

    The real reason for all of the endless wars, other acts of aggression and endless expansion of bases is very simple: A lot of very wealthy people become even wealthier when the U.S. government has to buy endless amounts of supplies year after year. It’s war profiteering, plain and simple. The politicians like it because they get campaign donations and potential, lucrative jobs when they leave Congress. High-ranking officers like it because they can retire into cushy jobs with the war profiteers. Presidents like it because they can pretend to be tough, and a lot of mindless people vote to “support” the president and troops. I say “mindless” because the very best way to support our soldiers is to not send them off to die or be injured in unprovoked wars of aggression. For wealthy war profiteers and high-level officers and politicians, this is a win-win situation.

    For a parallel example, look at how Obama is now collecting his pay checks from his real employers when he was supposed to be serving the American people: the Tony Sopranos Gang of Wall Street. I’m sure he’ll get some fat pay check from the war profiteers too.

  5. Brian English says

    I wonder when it will unravel? I mean there is only so much stretching of troops and logistics lines you can do before you run out of money and/or will. Probably a long way to go to that point, but the British Empire went downhill fast, the US might shrink back to a Russia level power sometime. China seems to have the game to build an Empire of influence without the ridiculous spending…

  6. says

    Brian English@#5:
    I think the Iraq war was “peak America”
    Notice how careful they have been to avoid deploying the military in a place where they can get hurt? It means that they really can’t project power any more. And now that the navy and air force have f-35’d and supercarrier’d themselves into uselessness, it’s just special forces and drones plus nuclear threat. Modulo the drones we’re about where Russia is -- we’re just in denial.

  7. rjw1 says

    Brian English @5

    Agreed. The British Empire seems a more appropriate model than the Roman Empire’s centuries long decline. The historian Niall Ferguson predicts a precipitate collapse because of the huge debt levels and that sooner or later the US will be unable to finance its military expenditure at the current imperial level.

  8. jrkrideau says

    @ 7 rjw1
    The British Empire seems a more appropriate model

    Indeed, imperial overextension and a loss of industrial dominance.

    Spain in the 17th and early 18th centuries seems a good one as well.

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