It’s time time talk about Niger again. No, not about what is going down between the White House and the Congresswoman from Miami over what the president did and did not say, and how he did or did not say it, but about the other charges the Congresswoman leveled during an interview on “The View.”
“Why wasn’t he in an armored truck?” she asked. “Why did he have weapons weaker than the terrorists’ weapons? Why were they able to surround them and kill them?” She then tipped her hand. “This is going to be Mr. Trump’s Benghazi,” she said, adding, “This whole thing about what he said to the widow is a cover-up!” Whoopi Goldberg tried her best to cut her off, but the rant continued as they cut to commercial.
It’s one thing to hear this kind of talk from a back-bencher whose best known for her headgear and her dislike of the president. It’s another thing to hear it from a conservative pundit who ought to know better. On her HLN program Wednesday evening, S.E. Cupp said that Republicans were asking questions about Benghazi hours after the attack, and ought to be prepared for the same kinds of questions now.
This kind of comparison has to stop. Let’s look at the facts.
We can begin with events leading up to both incidents. Libyan strongman Muammar Khaddafi was fairly contained by the time Obama took office. Seeing what George Bush did to Iraq, he voluntarily gave up his nuclear and chemical programs and opened his doors to inspectors. In May of 2007, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced that the U.S. was taking Libya off the list of state sponsors of terrorism and would reinstate normal diplomatic relations.
But the Arab Spring of 2010 spread to Libya, and Khaddafi found himself in the midst of a civil war. Rather that try to stabilize the situation, the United Nations, with the backing of the Obama administration, established a no-fly zone which only contributed to the chaos. Sure, those of us old enough to remember the 1986 Berlin disco bombing and the downing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Scotland felt a little schadenfreude at Khaddafi’s death.
But if you thought the plans for what to do after ousting Saddam Hussein were bad, they look like a doctoral dissertation when compared to the thought that went into Libya. Because after intervening in a civil war without congressional approval, President Obama left the country hanging, and it devolved into a failed state under the “control” of different regional factions, none of them particularly nice people.
The attack on the consulate in Benghazi took place against this chaotic backdrop. And before the fighting had even stopped, the White House was telling us that it was all because a protest erupted over an obscure YouTube video.
say it with me: niger is not libya
U.S. special operations forces are on the ground in Niger to advise and assist the Nigerien Army. Despite all the attention given to “direct action” since 9/11, training foreign forces is the primary mission of the Army’s Special Forces. They’ve been performing that mission, formally called Foreign Internal Defense, since their founding in 1952, whether the U.S. was at war or not.
The Pentagon sent a team to investigate what went wrong, but this has to be largely window dressing. It seems fairly straightforward. Here’s what I think happened. The SF team with some support troops and about 30 Nigerien soldiers went to a remote village inside or along the edge of territory infested with insurgents from Mali, to conduct what’s called a “key leader engagement.” I drank a thousand cups of green tea in Afghanistan doing just that.
On the way back to their temporary base near Tongo Tongo, they were ambushed. They didn’t have any air cover, even from drones, because they assessed the risk of attack as low. When they were attacked, it was by a numerically superior force spread out over a large area. Their Nigerien counterparts probably didn’t fight all that hard. (Reporting from the special operations bloggers at SOFREP supports that last theory).
The guys at SOFREP have also reported that French special forces from inside Mali came to the team’s aid, and although French Mirage jets were also dispatched, they were unable to provide the necessary close air support. French helicopters eventually extracted the team. Merci beaucoup.
So stop calling Niger “Trump’s Benghazi.” It’s not even close.