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  • Author: Loren DeJonge Schulman
  • Publication Date: 10-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Center for a New American Security
  • Abstract: The tragic 2017 killing of four U.S. Army personnel caught in a surprise ambush in Niger offers very few positive lessons for congressional oversight. Indeed, when speaking with experts, there is little agreement on whether Congress was kept appropriately informed or was even in a position to understand the mission of U.S. forces in Niger. Superficially, there are blunt facts—years of War Powers notifications detailing increasing numbers of combat-equipped personnel and U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) posture statements highlighting the counterterrorism mission in the Sahel—stood against blunt statements from senior members—“I didn’t know there was 1,000 troops in Niger,” Senator Lindsey Graham said shortly after the incident.1 Explored in more detail, inconsistent mission and authority reporting from the Department of Defense (DoD) confronts, and combines with, variable expectations from Congress. At the heart of this friction is the by-with-and-through counterterrorism strategy, how it is implemented in practice, and whether key stakeholders have a common understanding of its rule sets and risks. Some of the gaps the Tongo Tongo ambush highlighted—between the Pentagon and operational units; between AFRICOM and Special Operations Command Africa (SOC-AF); and between Congress and the DoD—have been addressed, but others remain. This incident offers multiple lessons to both sides of the Potomac River in improving oversight relationships, both in informal interactions and in formal understanding of authorities and oversight responsibilities.
  • Topic: Defense Policy, Military Affairs, Counter-terrorism
  • Political Geography: Africa, North America, Niger, United States of America