On Monday, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, appeared before reporters at the Pentagon ostensibly to address a number of questions relating to the deaths of four American and five Nigerian soldiers in what has been described as an ISIS-led ambush in Niger nearly three weeks ago.
But by the time the press conference ended it was clear that many of those questions—What were the exact circumstances surrounding the attack? Was there a change in the nature of the original reconnaissance mission? Were the servicemen wearing body armor?—would remain unanswered. On Sunday morning, Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain complained that his committee was “not getting enough information.”
And while the president’s deeply shameful behavior towards the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson has attracted considerable and richly deserved condemnation, members of Congress are also raising questions about the ambush and the larger mission in Niger. Indeed, some senators, including Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Armed Services member Lindsey Graham, have even admitted that they had been unaware of the extent of the American presence in Niger until now.
The mission in Niger derives its legal authority from the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) which granted then-President George W. Bush wide authority
to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.
Yet now the incident in Niger is causing some lawmakers to question whether it might be time, 16 years on, to reexamine the AUMF. Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Tim Kaine observed that “The many questions surrounding the death of American service members in Niger show the urgent need to have a public discussion about the current extent of our military operations around the world.”
Senator Lindsey Graham predicts that “the rules of engagement are going to change when it comes to counter-terrorism operations.” Graham told The Washington Post on Friday that “You’re going to see more actions in Africa, not less; you’re going to see more aggression by the United States toward our enemies, not less; you’re going to have decisions being made not in the White House but out in the field.”