October 24, 2017

Following Attack In Niger, Kaine Calls On Mattis To Provide Information On "Advise And Assist" Missions

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committees, in a letter to Secretary of Defense James Mattis, has asked for explanations on the Department of Defense “advise and assist” missions and details on the legal authorities that justify them following the October 4th attack in western Niger that resulted in the deaths of four American soldiers. Kaine has called for a debate on U.S. military operations in Africa and across the globe in light of the blurred line between “advise and assist” missions and combat operations, and the expanding list of countries and groups the U.S. military is engaged with. Kaine has long been a leading voice in the Senate on the need for Congress to reassert its role in authorizing military action to demonstrate to servicemembers and the American public that Congress stands behind the military’s mission.

“While I fully appreciate both the necessity and importance for our Armed Forces to assist in the professionalization and capacity building of local security forces around the globe, to include those in Niger, I am concerned that our complex operating environment has made it nearly impossible to differentiate between “advise and assist” and combat operations.  In turn, this makes the line triggering the requirement for congressional authorization and approval blurry,” wrote Kaine.  “Specifically, since 2013, the U.S. military personnel presence in Niger has grown from approximately 100 personnel to over 800 today making Niger host to one of the largest U.S. troop presences in Africa and raising the question of ‘mission creep.’ Our system of government requires the Executive Branch to provide Congress with thorough details and information on the number of U.S. forces deployed overseas, their assigned missions and operating locations and the likelihood of further escalation of force to ensure Congress can exercise is Constitutional obligation to authorize military action and provide critical oversight of our national security operations on behalf of the American people.”

For years, Kaine has been outspoken about the need for a new AUMF against ISIS. In 2013, Kaine voted in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to authorize military force against Syria following Assad's use of chemical weapons against his own people. In May of 2017, Kaine and U.S. Senator Jeff Flake introduced a bipartisan AUMF against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), al-Qaeda, and the Taliban. Kaine and Flake’s bipartisan AUMF explicitly authorizes military action against the three terrorist groups, gives Congress an oversight role it currently lacks over who can be considered to be “associated” with the terrorist groups and in which countries military action can take place, and provides an expedited process for Congress to re-authorize this AUMF in five years. Lastly, it repeals the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs. Full text of the AUMF is available here.

Full text of Kaine’s letter can be found here and below:

October 23, 2017

The Honorable James Mattis

Secretary of Defense

U.S. Department of Defense

100 Defense Pentagon,

Washington, DC 20301

Dear Secretary Mattis:

I write to request a more detailed explanation of the Department of Defense’s self-described “advise and assist” missions to foreign countries, to include the operations surrounding the October 4 attack in western Niger that resulted in the death of four American soldiers and several wounded. 

On October 5, the day following the attack in Niger, the Pentagon spokesperson stated that the U.S. servicemembers were “conducting an advise and assist mission” with Niger security forces, several of whom were also killed in the attack.  The President’s June 2017 War Powers update to Congress includes a brief statement related to Niger noting that U.S. military personnel are there “to provide a wide variety of support to African partners conducting counterterrorism operations in the region.” 

While I fully appreciate both the necessity and importance for our Armed Forces to assist in the professionalization and capacity building of local security forces around the globe, to include those in Niger, I am concerned that our complex operating environment has made it nearly impossible to differentiate between “advise and assist” and combat operations.  In turn, this makes the line triggering the requirement for congressional authorization and approval blurry.

According to Department of Defense documents, nearly one-fifth of U.S. Special Operations Command personnel are deployed across Africa, more than anywhere else except the Middle East – an increase by a factor of 17 over the past decade.  Hundreds of missions are being run daily in 20 countries where there is no specific authorization for use of military force provided by Congress.  Specifically, since 2013, the U.S. military personnel presence in Niger has grown from approximately 100 personnel to over 800 today making Niger host to one of the largest U.S. troop presences in Africa and raising the question of “mission creep.”  Our system of government requires the Executive Branch to provide Congress with thorough details and information on the number of U.S. forces deployed overseas, their assigned missions and operating locations and the likelihood of further escalation of force to ensure Congress can exercise is Constitutional obligation to authorize military action and provide critical oversight of our national security operations on behalf of the American people. 

While no group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack in Niger, it is very likely that an Islamist extremist group such as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb was involved.  If true, this would be the first incident in which such a group has killed U.S. soldiers on active duty in the Sahel.  If not true, this would be an expansion of the conflict leaving U.S. servicememembers legally devoid of the appropriate authorities to conduct offensive operations.  Considering the time-sensitive decisions that are required to be made by our troops while instructing and patrolling with local forces in a real-time counterterrorism environment while also taking the appropriate security precautions, I request answers the following questions: 

  • Of the countries listed in the June 2017 War Powers update to Congress, which have required the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force to justify U.S. military hostilities?  Do you anticipate additional countries being added to this list prior to your submission of the December 2017 War Power update to Congress?
  • Of the countries not requiring the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force to justify military actions, have any required U.S. military forces to invoke the inherent right of self-defense OR the President’s Article II powers to justify military hostilities?  If so, which ones and was Congress notified of these actions?
  • Does the Department of Defense anticipate sending additional U.S. forces to Niger?  How about to other African countries?
  • What were the rules of engagement for U.S. forces on deployment to Niger as of October 1, 2017?  What, if any, changes been made following the October 4, 2017 attack?
  • How does the Department notify Congress in the event that a forward deployed U.S. military unit’s mission is changed from an “advise and assist” to one where U.S. forces are expected to engage in armed-conflict? 

I appreciate your attention to these critical matters and look forward to your response by December 1, 2017.

Sincerely,

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