When four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, were killed at the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012, Republicans moved quickly to politicize their deaths and to pin blame on President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney accused the Obama administration only hours after the incident in Benghazi of sympathizing with the attackers.
Republicans also accused National Security Advisor Susan Rice of misleading the public by saying on CBS’ Face the Nation and ABC’s This Week that the attack was a direct result of a “heinous and offensive video,” and was spontaneous, not a preplanned terrorist attack.
Congressional Republicans subsequently conducted seven congressional committee investigations and issued nine reports into the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi. The final probe lasted more than two years and cost more than $7 million, as GOP lawmakers hoped to find misconduct by Obama, or more significantly Secretary Clinton. Those inquiries came up empty, but served Republican’s desired purpose of smearing Obama, Clinton and Rice within the epistemic closure of the conservative media entertainment complex feedback loop.
The Benghazi conspiracy theory, in a nutshell, was that: (1) the Obama administration prematurely claimed victory against al Qaida terrorist groups in Libya; (2) there was an intelligence failure that left U.S. diplomatic personnel vulnerable, and (4) the U.S. military was not in position to conduct a rescue operation. (5) Republicans, of course, politicized the incident accusing the Obama administration of lying about what happened and what went wrong.
Donald Trump now has his own “Benghazi” scandal, in a remarkably parallel set of circumstances after an ambush killed four American soldiers in Niger on October4, 2017. Unlike Benghazi, hyped by the conservative media entertainment complex and the GOP during a presidential election year, this scandal has been slow to develop, but the media is now beginning to get up to speed.
Pematurely claiming victory over ISIS terrorists
President Donald Trump took credit for the fact that ISIS is in retreat during an interview Tuesday, claiming that ISIS wasn’t on the run before because “you didn’t have Trump as your president.”
The comment comes as US-backed forces fighting ISIS in Raqqa said “major military operations” in the city have ended and that the jihadists have lost control of their self-declared capital.
American officials have not yet formally announced that the fight is won, but the development marks a significant moment for the war on ISIS.
“I totally changed rules of engagement. I totally changed our military, I totally changed the attitudes of the military and they have done a fantastic job,” Trump said on “The Chris Plante Show.” “ISIS is now giving up, they are giving up, there are raising their hands, they are walking off. Nobody has ever seen that before.”
When Plante asked why that hadn’t happened before, Trump took the bait.
“Because you didn’t have Trump as your president,” he said. “It was a big difference, there was a big, big difference if you look at the military now.”
When Trump is delusionally claiming that he alone is responsible for defeating ISIS, he cannot acknowledge a successful ISIS-affiliated attack against U.S. servicemen in Niger contradicting his magnifence and premature claim of victory.
In fact, Trump had not issued a statement or spoken publicly, or tweeted (shock!) about the ambush in Niger from October 4 until asked about it at an impromptou press conference last week. And even then he sought to avoid answering questions about the ambush by creating a grand distraction for the media.
On October 14, CNN reported Trump silent as questions remain over deadly Niger ambush:
[S]ince the ambush on October 4 in Niger, he has not commented publicly on the deadliest combat incident involving US troops since he took office.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders did address the deaths on October 5, saying “our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of the fallen service members who made the ultimate sacrifice in the defense of the freedoms we hold so dear.”
The Pentagon has not provided a detailed accounting of the ambush by 50 ISIS affiliated fighters which left four US soldiers dead and two wounded and has said the incident remains under investigation. But CNN has talked to half a dozen US officials who describe details of the chaos and confusion which led to the troops being left on the ground for nearly an hour before help could get to the remote area of southwestern Niger where they were operating. In addition, officials still do not know how Johnson became separated from the party only for his body to be recovered nearly 48 hours later.
Officials said the 12 man Green Beret-led team had just completed a meeting with local leaders and were walking back to their unarmored pick-up trucks when the unexpected ambush resulted in a firefight that lasted 30 minutes until French Mirage jets arrived overhead to fly low passes in an attempt to disperse the attackers.
The attackers had rocket propelled grenades and machine guns, while the US troops were armed only with rifles and were in unarmored trucks according to officials. It had been considered ‘unlikely’ they would run into opposition and initial reports being reviewed indicate some locals in the area may have known an attack was planned, two officials said.
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Officials who have read the initial after-action reports say there was confusion and uncertainty on the ground after what was a completely unexpected attack. The team was particularly vulnerable because it was in two separate locations when the attack began.
On October 18, Steve Benen reported, Two weeks later, Trump still hasn’t addressed US deaths in Niger:
On Oct. 4, exactly two weeks ago, four American soldiers were killed in an ambush in northwestern Africa. Donald Trump, who routinely tweets a series of provocative thoughts in response to deadly terrorism said nothing. As the remains of the U.S. Special Forces soldiers started to return home, Trump again said nothing, golfing as the caskets arrived at Dover Air Force.
As the Washington Post reported today, the president has had plenty to say about a wide range of topics since the deadly attack in Niger – he’s apparently upset with protesting athletes, Democrats, the mayor or San Juan, and major American news organizations – but Trump has remained completely silent on the deadliest attack on U.S. military forces since he took office.
That seemed to change on Monday, when a reporter asked about his reticence, but even then, Trump’s answer covered a lot of ground – he’s impressed with his communications with family members of the fallen, and he’s taken some cheap and misleading shots at Barack Obama – without even trying to address the underlying question: Why did these four Americans die?
It’s not that the other questions are unimportant. When Trump lies about the records of his predecessors, it matters. When the president says he calls each of the families of those killed in action, but fails to follow through, it matters. When he clumsily tries and fails to bring comfort to those who are grieving, it matters. When Trump seems to exploit the memory of his chief of staff’s son, who died in Afghanistan, for petty political purposes, it matters.
Update: President Donald Trump’s boast that he surpasses his predecessors in consoling families of the fallen proved empty this past week as many stepped forward to say they’d never heard from him after losing their loved ones in military service. AP Fact Check: Trump on military deaths.
But we’re still left with the fact that the president, as The Atlantic’s David Graham noted today, has “pushed the conversation even further away from the actual question of the fallen soldiers.”
And there’s no reason anyone should consider that acceptable. How did ISIS-affiliated fighters ambush U.S. Special Forces in an area considered to be low-risk? Why did it take so long for help to arrive? Why did it take nearly two days to recover the body of one of the four Americans killed?
And why is Donald Trump willing to talk about practically every subject except this one?
Two weeks later, the commander in chief hasn’t even acknowledged what happened. The questions have been ignored and/or buried by a series of related distractions.
‘Massive Intelligence Failures’ left U.S. personnel vulnerable
NBC News reports, Niger Ambush Came After ‘Massive Intelligence Failure,’ Source Says:
A senior congressional aide who has been briefed on the deaths of four U.S. servicemen in Niger says the ambush by militants stemmed in part from a “massive intelligence failure.”
The aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak publicly, said the House and Senate armed services committees have questions about the scope of the U.S. mission in Niger, and whether the Pentagon is properly supporting the troops on the ground there.
There was no U.S. overhead surveillance of the mission, he said, and no American quick-reaction force available to rescue the troops if things went wrong. If it weren’t for the arrival of French fighter jets, he said, things could have been much worse for the Americans.
Congress also has many unanswered questions about what happened, he said, including about the specifics of the mission that day and the accounts lawmakers have been given about the timeline of the attack and rescue.
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A Pentagon spokesperson called the claim of an intelligence failure “speculation.”
“An investigation is underway,” said the spokesperson. “At the conclusion of the investigation, we will provide further details.”
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On Friday afternoon, Defense Secretary James Mattis met with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, to discuss the Niger raid.
Earlier this week, McCain said the committee had not been provided with the information about the Niger mission that it “deserves.”
Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., told reporters Friday that it’s too early to say whether there was an intelligence failure, “but that’s exactly the kind of questions we should be asking ourselves.”
“The war is morphing,” he said. “You’re going to see more actions in Africa, not less.”
In that context, Graham said, “I will insist that Congress is informed more often and in more detail,” about military operations.
He added, “As the war expands, as the military had more authority, Congress is going to require more information.”
The New York Times reports that Conflicting Accounts in Niger Ambush Are Subject of Pentagon Investigation, and the Wall Street Journal reports, Death of U.S. Soldiers in Niger Sparks FBI Probe, Criticism.
U.S. military was not in a position to conduct a rescue operation
As noted above, “There was no U.S. overhead surveillance of the mission, and no American quick-reaction force available to rescue the troops if things went wrong. If it weren’t for the arrival of French fighter jets, he said, things could have been much worse for the Americans.”
CNN earlier reported Trump silent as questions remain over deadly Niger ambush:
The failure to anticipate an attack and the fact there were no US rescue and recover assets close by meant nearly an hour went by before the evacuation of the two wounded and three dead US troops by French Super Puma helicopters could be completed.
Defense Secretary James Mattis said the rescue was timely stating: “I completely reject the idea that that was slow.” But he did say an investigation will determine if changes are needed. “We will look at this and say was there something we have to adapt to now? Should we have been in a better stance.”
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While French helicopters were able to get the team to safety, the critical failure to find Johnson for another 48 hours has not been explained. His body was eventually found in a nearby area, but military investigators do not know why he was left behind during the French led evacuation and if he was alive even for a short period of time, US officials tell CNN.
Military officials have acknowledged that the incident is under investigation and that security procedures for teams operating in Africa are in the process of being reviewed. But it remains to be seen if Trump will choose to weigh in on the failings that led to the deadliest combat incident of his presidency so far.
As for the fifth parallel comparison to Benghazi, “accusing the Obama administration of lying about what happened and what went wrong,” the media here is accusing the Trump administration of not expalining anything at all about the mission in Niger and what happened and what went wrong.
Perversely, Donald Trump and his chief of staff General John “Mad Dog” Kelly have created the media distraction of the Gold Star Families scandal to avoid answering questions about the mission in Niger and what happened and what went wrong. The Gold Star Families scandal requires a post of its own.