This hasn’t been the best of weeks for the United States. We had the largest mass shooting in our history in Las Vegas and then news came out that a Special Forces team, from the 3rd Special Forces Group working with local troops from Niger, were ambushed and suffered four dead in the firefight. There were two Special Forces A-team members and two support soldiers killed in action, who were out on the operation. Two other wounded Green Berets were flown to a military hospital in Germany where they are expected to recover.
A joint Special Forces, Nigerien operation was attacked 120 miles north of the West African country’s capital, Niamey, near the border with Mali.The terrorist group Al Qaeda in the Islamic Mahgreb, or AQIM, is suspected of carrying out the deadly attack. SOFREP’s Derek Gannon has been on top of this breaking situation since it occurred. He’s had the best breakdown of the information as it has unfolded. You can find some of his work here:
We are not even going to get into the topic of second-guessing or armchair quarterbacking this mission. The details are still fuzzy and the men performing these operations are highly trained professionals. They were all veterans of multiple deployments and know better than most the risks that are involved. The self-serving Pentagon CYA comments about risk assessments are an insult to the men who get tasked with performing these operations. But we digress…
But whenever a situation like this happens, which thankfully is rare, the first question everyone wants to ask is “Why did this happen?”. Many friends and relatives who aren’t or have never been in the military have been constantly asking “What are U.S. troops doing in Niger?” I even heard, “Is Trump starting an undeclared war in Africa?”
To answer this, the first thing that people must understand is that President Trump isn’t running some “black-ops” secret war without the knowledge of the American people. Special Operations Forces have been operating in Africa for decades. While most Americans are aware of the wars ongoing in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria, the others, the “shadow wars” are going on all over the world and our Special Operations Forces are involved. And on any given day, Special Operations Forces from all of the services can be found in nearly 100 countries around the globe.
After the 9-11 attacks, President Bush initiated a counterterrorism program in which the U.S. worked with the militaries of Niger, Chad, Mali, and Mauritania, to track down criminals and terrorists in the region. It was later expanded to several other countries.
In 2013, Islamic militants overran parts of Mali, where the local government asked France to launch a military intervention to drive them out. This was called Operation Serval.
As former President Obama was winding down operations in Afghanistan, he directed more assets be allocated towards Africa. The 3rd SFG has had Africa as one of its bases of operations since its reactivation in 1990. They were also operating in the Caribbean but have been active participants in the Global War on Terror (GWOT). The 3rd SFG has distinguished itself in the war in Afghanistan as well as Iraq.
The US currently has close to 6000 troops in Africa with close to 800 in Niger. Most of those troops are at two drone bases that the US operates inside the country to keep an eye on the terrorists from ISIS who are flocking from the hot spots of Syria and Iraq as the Islamic State is being routed out of both of those.
The U.S. military has been in a train, advise and assist mode in West Africa for over a decade and Special Operations Forces are at the forefront of that. Those soldiers from the 3rd SFG were there conducting a FID (Foreign Internal Defense) Mission with the Nigerien military as well as advising Nigerien special operations during direct action counter-insurgency operations within the country.
The area of UW (Unconventional Warfare) and FID are two of the areas where the Special Forces groups of the Army are without peer. Their ability to build rapport, speak the local languages and know the customs, of the target nation, makes them the premier UW/FID force in USSOCOM.
Special Forces troops work in the shadows, in those gray areas where there is no right or wrong answer when dealing with foreign governments and military units. One day they may be teaching basic patrolling to a green host nation unit. The next they may be asked to be a diplomat and discuss the on-going strategy with a high-level member of the host nation government.
Special Forces troops such as these men in the 3rd SFG are enablers or what we called in an earlier time, force multipliers. They’re going to teach, assist and advise the host nation forces to root out these Al-Qaeda terrorists from their lands. No one is better at doing these Direct Action type missions than our Special Operations Forces (Navy SEALs, Army Rangers, Marine Raiders and Green Berets).
But when the SF are allowed to do their mission, the host nation soldiers will do the heavy lifting, the SF will be there to advise and assist. The host nation soldiers will get all the credit as the SF blends back into the shadows. They are the true “Quiet Professionals.” Which means American troops don’t have to do the fighting there.
Most Americans don’t know that on a daily basis these SF troops could be leading a reconnaissance patrol in Africa, advising a Colombian counternarcotics unit on a drug raid, conducting counter-terrorism operations in Afghanistan or advising a Filipino unit doing live operations against Islamic State insurgents.
Another reason that many of our countrymen were surprised to hear that we have troops in Africa is that it doesn’t affect them. Unfortunately, most Americans aren’t truly invested in the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria as well as the countless shadow wars that going on. Oh, they’ll support the troops when they see them coming home and won’t fail to thank them for their service, but for the majority of America, the war is being fought by “somebody else.”
We are creating an almost new caste of society in the United States, the military family. So many of the people that have served have sons, daughters and grandsons and granddaughters serving. The All-volunteer military is the way to go and no one is arguing for a return of the draft here, but we have an increasingly large segment of our society that has little to no stake in what is going on, other than the residual effects on our economy etc. I wonder how many high school students could even find Iraq or Afghanistan on a map. Compare that to a few generations ago. Every school kid could probably find the tiny speck of Iwo Jima on a map back then.
So while it isn’t totally surprising that many Americans didn’t know that we had Special Forces troops in Africa, to answer the original question, “What are Green Berets doing in Africa, the shortest and best answer is…they are doing their job.
Photo: US Army Special Operations Command