The last week has held America’s emotions hostage. Outrage. Shock. Awe. The more we learn about the Niger incident are the more questions we have. Like a hydra, we chop off one bureaucratic head, only for two more to grow in its place. We look for leadership, moral or otherwise, and it’s not to be found. Trump obfuscates his responsibility as Americans and the families of four fallen soldiers are left to piece together the remains of the in Niger incident.
October 16, 2017 Press Conference
During President Trump’s Rose Garden press conference, he refused to answer the question about Niger and instead segued to whether or not past presidents contacted the family members of fallen soldiers. This distraction is reminiscent of the Obama wire-tapping distraction before we knew Trump’s strategy. Trump has now marched out White House Chief of Staff John Kelly as a surrogate to hold a press conference to speak of what happens when a service person dies. Kelly adding his outrage at the response to Trump’s once denied remark, “He knew what he was getting into.” Yet, the original question asked of the president remains unanswered- Why haven’t we heard anything from him in regard to the soldiers killed in Niger?
Niger is a formerly a French colony, and part of a group of countries in that region that include Mali, Nigeria, and Chad. In 2012 Islamic militants invaded Mali. The neighbouring country of Chad, whose military has an excellent reputation, along with French troops assisted in Mali’s eventual emancipation. In 2015, a permanent United Nations joint task to fight Islamic militant activity in central and west Africa was established in Chad.
The Latest Travel Ban
September 24th of this year, Trump issued his latest travel ban inexplicably adding Chad to the list of countries banned from travel to the United States. Both the State Department and Defense Department indicated they had not been consulted prior to the announcement. It is reported that both departments were opposed to this action. According to Trump’s administration, Chad was added as “several terrorist groups were active within Chad.” Chad, in fact, had the least amount of terrorist groups while being the most involved in assisting other countries with a far higher terrorist presence. One such country is Niger.
On September 25th, the New York Times interviewed Mathew Page, previously the State Department’s expert in the region, who stated that the travel ban for Chad seemed to be “a knee-jerk move, rather than a carefully considered decision.” He added it “put American’s in harm’s way.
The government of Chad expressed “incomprehension in the face of the official reasons for this decision, which contrasts with Chad’s constant efforts and commitments in the fight against terrorism.” It called on President Trump to rethink the decision, “which has seriously affected the image of Chad and the good relations maintained by the two countries.”
On about September 29, barely a week after the announcement of the travel ban, Chad began their withdrawal from Niger, announcing its completion on October 13th. Reports indicate that shortly after this withdrawal ISIS related activity began to increase. According to reports, the four American soldiers died during a routine mission that had previously been supported by the Chad military presence.
Before the travel ban was issued, the United States sent a request to various countries asking that a copy of the respective country’s passport be provided to the United States. At the time, Chad, although able to provide an older version was unable to provide an updated copy of their passport to the United States due to the fact they had run out of passport paper. As a result, in spite of being a close ally of the United States in the war against ISIS and counter-terrorism, Chad without further consideration or diplomatic attempts, was included in the travel ban.
It is speculated that Mr. Trump refused to answer the question of why he had not commented on the four fallen soldiers as he wished to take credit for any success against ISIS. Americans killed by ISIS was contrary to any praise would have garnered.
Further speculation held that Chad, who has oil reserves, was being punished by the Trump Administration for holding ExxonMobil’s “feet to the fire” when the government of Chad requested that ExxonMobil pay to Chad almost $70 billion in fines and $100’s of millions in taxes. There are many who may not remember or even have known that present secretary of state Rex Tillerson, served as ExxonMobil’s CEO from 2006 until 2016.
All fingers point back to Trump’s administration—including Chad in the travel ban, the failure to maintain diplomatic relations or to perhaps even treating Chad with the same mutual respect that one would afford any other close ally, and the failure on the part of the United States’ military to take reasonable steps to safeguard American soldiers operating in the absence of strong ally support. Pick one, pick all of them.
Now you know why Mr. Trump may have taken so long to acknowledge the Niger incident, and instead chose to divert, digress and distract. Now you know.
k.g. Sambrano is a Canadian writer known for his works of literary fiction and poetry, and is an occasional freelance political writer, who sometimes stays up way too late.