Sen. Blumenthal On Niger Attack
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
There is still so much not known about the deaths of four American soldiers killed in Niger. We do know that the four men were ambushed during what was thought to be a routine reconnaissance mission, but there have been many questions about the exact nature of the mission - why it took an hour for the troops to receive help and what may have prompted the attack. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Joseph Dunford, acknowledged all of these questions yesterday.
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JOSEPH DUNFORD: We want to make sure we have the whole story and context. We can provide the facts to the family. That's my primary target audience right now. They have legitimate questions. They lost their loved ones, and they have legitimate questions about what happened.
GREENE: OK, tomorrow the Senate Armed Services Committee is hoping to get some answers. They're going to hold a classified briefing with top military officials. And Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut sits on that committee and joins us this morning.
Senator, thanks for coming on.
RICHARD BLUMENTHAL: Thank you, David. Great to be with you.
GREENE: So what's the biggest question you want answered tomorrow?
BLUMENTHAL: There are a series of questions that need to be answered. The administration has failed to be as fully and promptly forthcoming as it should be. And one of the questions is why it has taken so long - more than three weeks - after the October 3 ambush that killed these brave Americans.
But the principal question is, what was the mission? What mistakes were made? And who made them, and why? And clearly, in determining the mission, what went awry? We'll learn more about the overall purpose and effect of the United States' engagement in Africa, and it is a highly significant engagement with 6,000 troops and some 800 of them in Niger alone.
GREENE: A lot to work through with you here - I want to be clear. One thing you're saying is that it's been three weeks, and if four Americans were killed, you would've hoped that the administration would've come to the Armed Services Committee much sooner and started answering questions about those deaths. Is that what you're saying?
BLUMENTHAL: They have an obligation, certainly, to the families, as General Dunford articulated so well. But clearly, they have an obligation to the Armed Services Committee and to the American people. And that's one reason why there needs to be consideration of an authorization for the use of military force, a revised and renewed one, which both Chairman McCain, and to some lesser extent, Chairman Corker, respectively, of armed services and foreign relations, have said they're - need to be considered.
But one of the very chilling facts about the record so far is that, clearly, the Congress was told back in June, there was significant numbers of troops in Africa. And also, there was a very chilling warning from the AFRICOM commander, General Waldhauser, in his testimony about - the Armed Services Committee about the failure to meet key resources, critical requirements and capabilities that were necessary for this kind of mission.
GREENE: Oh, so you knew back in June that, I mean - that there were some - a tense situation in Africa, and a country like Niger could be very risky for U.S. troops.
BLUMENTHAL: And the Congress has a obligation, not just an opportunity, now, to drill down and know what the mission is there, why we have these very significant number of troops there and why, in the words of General Waldhauser, only approximately 20 to 30 percent of Africa Command's ISR requirements are met. Those ISR requirements are intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance - exactly the kinds of situational awareness that are necessary for this kind of situation in Niger that these men and - men face.
GREENE: Well, this raises a larger question that you sort of brought up. I mean, one question is what the administration has told you since this happened. The other question is what role Congress plays ahead of missions like this. And, I mean, we've had this authorization for the use of military force that dates back to after the September 11 attacks - three presidents - Presidents Bush, Obama, Trump - using that in the fight against al-Qaida, the Taliban, affiliated groups. Is it time for Congress to consider updating that and debating the use of force?
BLUMENTHAL: Clearly, yes. Congress must consider revising and updating the Authorization for Use of Military Force. Many of us, including myself, have advocated that kind of revised authorization for military force because our troops are deployed around the world in the fight against terrorist violence. And the very large presence in Africa in 53 countries - more than 6,000 troops - bespeaks to the need to know exactly what the mission is and how to hold accountable the military in these kinds of situations.
And to go back to what General Waldhauser told us - and it was only in March that he said it - only 20 to 30 percent of his command's intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance requirements were met. And as he said, this kind of can limit situational understanding, supports, operations. And it fails to offer the kind of threat indications and warnings that're necessary for our troops to avoid the kind of ambush that occurred there. And one of the questions, obviously, is why it took so long to call in backup and what more could've been done to avoid this situation.
GREENE: And just briefly, Senator, I mean, tomorrow's briefing is classified. So will the public - will the families of the fallen expect to learn anything?
BLUMENTHAL: They will, and they should. They deserve to know the key details. And General Dunford, obviously, is committed to it, and he did that briefing with consummate professional expertise, but at the same time, provided very little detail to - by the families or the public. And the public should know, as well. There should be hearings eventually.
GREENE: All right...
BLUMENTHAL: And there should be release of an investigative report consistent with the needs of security.
GREENE: Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, thanks so much.
BLUMENTHAL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.