Lost in the noise about Trump’s self -congratulatory tour of Puerto Rico, Congress letting health insurance expire for 9 million children, the suffering of the people of Puerto Rico, Russia investigations and the Secretary of State quite correctly calling the President what he is, was this news item:
WASHINGTON — Three United States Army Special Forces were killed and two were wounded on Wednesday in an ambush in Niger while on a training mission with troops from that nation in northwestern Africa, American military officials said.
“We can confirm reports that a joint U.S. and Nigerien patrol came under hostile fire in southwest Niger,” Lt. Cmdr. Anthony Falvo, a spokesman for the United States Africa Command in Stuttgart, Germany, said in an email.
All five American soldiers were Green Berets, said two United States military officials. The attack took place 120 miles north of Niamey, the capital of Niger, near the border with Mali, where militants with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, an affiliate of Al Qaeda, have conducted cross-border raids. Niger’s troops were also believed to have suffered casualties, but details were not immediately known.
Senseless and tragic this is. 16 years after 9-11 the US military remains overcommitted. What exactly where these Soldiers doing in Niger anyway?
In his first eight months in office, Mr. Trump’s top military officials have shown few signs that they want to back away from President Barack Obama’s strategy to train, equip and otherwise support indigenous armies and security forces to fight their own wars instead of deploying large American forces to far-flung hot spots, including the Sahel, a vast area on the southern flank of the Sahara that stretches from Senegal to Sudan.
And that is what is happening in Niger, a desperately poor, landlocked country twice the size of California that is struggling, even with assistance from the United States and France, to stem a flow of insurgents across Niger’s lightly guarded borders with Mali, Nigeria and Libya.
But unlike recent commando raids in Somalia or Reaper drone strikes in Libya, the deadly ambush on Wednesday in a remote desert area came during what American military officials said was a routine training mission — not a combat operation — and yet the casualties by both American and Nigerien forces underscore the inherent risks of operating in a potentially hostile environment.
The Grey Hair, in committing the US to the “War on Terror”, without knowing it, committed the United States to a war that will never end. For the US, it’s the modern-day equivalent of British and French colonial struggles; struggles that in the end saw the colonial powers lose their colonies and their prestige on the world stage.
16 years after 9-11 US troops remain committed to:
Deterrence efforts in South Korea
Somalia and Djibouti
Turkey and other NATO commitments
Various spots in Asia
And that is not even a complete list. The question every American should be asking him or herself is this: Where does this end? And when can we devote resources to fixing our own problems in the United States?
Since taking office, President Trump and his defense secretary have approved an increase in both forces and operational tempo in the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria; committed to an enduring presence in Iraq after the defeat of ISIS; are considering an imminent increase of at least 4,000 troops to Afghanistan as part of the advise and assist mission to Afghan National Security Forces; are reviewing an Afghan war strategy that could make weightier demands of long duration to that country; have increased the military assets assigned to deter and if necessary engage North Korea; are providing greater intelligence and special-operations support to allied operations in Yemen; and are pushing back assertively on Iranian naval activity. Those are non-trivial expansions of demand to place on an already over-stretched force.
Chief of Staff of the Army, General Mark Milley, assesses current requirements at 540,000 active-duty soldiers, which appears to be the Army’s favorite round number: It was also what the Army believed it needed in the mid-1990s, and what the Army believed it needed mid-term of the Obama administration. So it’s likely an institutionally comfortable number rather than a rigorously derived one.
But-and it is an important “but”, the United States has no way to pay for all this activity. Especially with massive tax cuts on the horizon.
If Congress will not find a way out of the dysfunctionality of sequestration—and the unwillingness to compromise that triggers it—the only other way to bring our requirements into line with our spending is to reduce those requirements. If Congress won’t provide adequate funding, it should at least provide guidance to the administration about which obligations we have undertaken for our security that we as a country should pare back. Where should the administration accept greater risk? Maybe instead of producing an “unfunded requirements” list, the secretary of defense should write his strategy in incremental spending thresholds that show what would have to be sacrificed in order for DOD to have confidence it could meet the strategy’s requirements. That way, Congress could choose the nation’s fate by choosing its level of spending.