Some top senators are saying they are stunned to find out the United States has troops in Niger as questions swirl about the raid that killed four US servicemen there earlier this month.
The Pentagon, however, said Monday that it has kept Congress informed of the operation. The Pentagon told CNN it keeps Congress regularly informed on the movements within the agency. And the White House said Monday it notified congressional leaders in June about 965 troops conducting counterterrorism duties in Niger and Cameroon. According to CNN, military investigators are looking into the exact circumstances of the October 4 raid, including how Sgt. La David Johnson was separated from the 12-member team as it was ambushed by 50 ISIS fighters.
CNN‘s Chris Cuomo asked Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pennsylvania) on “New Day” Monday whether he knew there were troops in Niger. “I did not,” Casey replied. “When you consider what happened here, the four sergeants lost their lives, I think there’s a lot of work that both parties and both branches of government need to do. Not only to stay more informed but to focus on why we’re there and what happened to get to the bottom of this.” But it isn’t just Democrats who were left in the dark.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, told NBC‘s Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press” Sunday: “They are going to brief us next week as to why they were there and what they were doing.” He said “I didn’t know there was 1,000 troops in Niger. I got a little insight on why they were there and what they were doing. I can say this to the families: They were there to defend America. They were there to help allies. They were there to prevent another platform to attack America and our allies.”
Graham also said his longtime friend and colleague Sen. John McCain is also upset. “We don’t know exactly where we’re at in the world, militarily, and what we’re doing. So John McCain is going to try to create a new system to make sure that we can answer the question (about) why we were there,” Graham said. “We’ll know how many soldiers are there, and if somebody gets killed there, that we won’t find out about it in the paper.”
When Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer was asked later on “Meet the Press” about knowing whether there were troops in Niger, he aslo responded, “No, I did not.”
Not all lawmakers were unaware of the presence of troops in Niger and accused those who did not know of not being “well-read.” Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pennsylvania, told Cuomo: “With respect to Niger, I serve on the appropriations committee. I oversee military construction projects. We have a presence there. Not just there, but within that whole Lake Chad region, supporting local troops to support fight Boko Haram, support operations in West Africa and the operation in Mali. So we have all sorts of people in that region fighting a very dangerous foe, and ISIS in West Africa, especially.” And Oklahoma Republican Rep. Steve Russell, a member of the government oversight and reform committee, also told CNN he knew about the troops. “It’s not new, and lawmakers that seem to be aghast at these missions going on are simply not well-read,” Dent told CNN‘s John Berman and Poppy Harlow.