Following Deadly Niger Ambush, Menendez Raises Questions on Legal Authorities for Military Mission

Following Deadly Niger Ambush, Menendez Raises Questions on Legal Authorities for Military Mission

   

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today raised a series of questions about the deadly ambush in Niger in October of last year that lead to the killing of four U.S. soldiers by ISIS. 

In a letter addressed to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Menendez inquired about U.S. policy objectives and legal authorities for military operations in Niger citing a Pentagon report released last week that outlined the individual, organizational, and institutional failures that lead to the deadly attack.

“While the [Pentagon’s] investigation revealed some information—including the troubling assessment that soldiers incorrectly characterized this specific mission— serious issues remain unresolved including the legal authorities under which U.S. soldiers in Niger are operating,” wrote the senator, mentioning he hopes Secretary Pompeo can provide a full understanding of U.S. efforts in Niger as he prepares to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee later this week. “Congress has a responsibility to ensure that military operations that put our men and women in harm’s way support our diplomatic efforts.”

The United States military has deployed more than 800 U.S. troops, the majority of whom are constructing an airbase in Agadez, and others who are conducting train and equip missions aimed at helping Nigeriens confront and respond to terrorist threats.

The senator’s letter listed a series of questions to be answered on the Niger incident and the need for any military action to be a component of a comprehensive strategy that emphasizes diplomacy and development executed under clear legal authorities authorized by Congress.

A copy of the letter can be found here and below.

 The Honorable Mike Pompeo

Secretary of State

Department of State

2201 C Street NW

Washington, DC 20520

Dear Secretary Pompeo:

I write to inquire about U.S. policy objectives and operations in Niger. In response to terrorist threats in the broader Sahel-Maghreb, the United States military has deployed more than 800 U.S. troops to conduct train and equip missions, and to construct an airfield in Agadez to provide additional Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance coverage in the region in order to help the Nigeriens confront and respond to terrorist threats.  Tragically, as you know, four American servicemen lost their lives in Niger last year, and our troops continue to operate in a potentially dangerous environment. On May 11, 2018, U.S. Africa Command personnel briefed Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff on the findings of its investigation into the circumstances that led to these deaths.  While the investigation revealed some information—including the troubling assessment that soldiers incorrectly characterized this specific mission-- serious issues remain unresolved including the legal authorities under which U.S. soldiers in Niger are operating.   

The State Department has responsibility for formulating and executing U.S. foreign policy. Congress has a responsibility to ensure that military operations that put our men and women in uniform in harm’s way support our diplomatic efforts. As you prepare for our hearing this week, I hope that you will be able to provide the Committee with a full understanding of our efforts in Niger, including the authorities under which U.S. personnel are operating. Specifically:

  • AFRICOM has stated that the soldiers who were killed in Niger in October were operating under Title 10 Authorities.  Under which specific chapter and section of Title 10 were they operating?  In what other countries do these legal authorities provide the basis for missions by the U.S. military?
  • What military actions, if any, does the Executive Branch believe are, and are not, permitted under existing train, equip, and advise and accompany authorities (and which specific authorities)?  In what other countries do these legal authorities provide the basis for missions by the U.S. military?
  • When was our Ambassador in Niger made aware that an inaccurate concept of operations for the mission was sent up the military chain of command?  What procedures are in place to ensure Chiefs of Mission have adequate information about what has been approved by the military chain of command and at what level the approval was granted?  
  • Is there a procedure in place through which our Chiefs of Mission can be sure that our country partners are in fact in the lead in missions; are fully briefed in advance of operations; and are being accompanied by U.S. soldiers rather than led by U.S. soldiers? 
  • Is there a whole-of-government strategy for Niger that includes adequate emphasis on diplomacy and development?  What are our main diplomatic and development goals in Niger, and how do they dovetail with the deployment of U.S. troops? 
  • How long are U.S. Armed Forces to remain deployed in Niger, and what diplomatic and development achievements are hoped to be achieved by the end of the deployment?

Mr. Secretary, it is in our interest to help the Nigeriens and countries in the Sahel confront and respond to terrorism.  However, a military approach alone is not enough.  Successfully countering terrorism and violent extremism requires that we use all three of our foreign policy tools: Defense, Diplomacy and Development.  Any military action must be a component of a comprehensive strategy, and executed under clear legal authorities authorized by Congress.  I look forward to discussing these and other issues with you next week.

Sincerely,