Putting the Niger Ambush Into Perspective

2017-11-06 by Murielle Delaporte

The Niger Ambush puts the fight against Islamic terrorists into perspective.

During an ambush, in early October in Niger, American and Nigerian soldiers encountered terrorist fighters who caused the deaths of nine of the counter-terrorist forces.

It is also a reminder that fighting global terrorism requires working together in spite of our differences; divided indeed we shall fail.

But instead of a Ben Franklin, moment some news stories simply choose to support the efforts of the terrorists to divide us.

For example, on November 4th, Breitbart News (echoing) an article published by the Guardian that same day, claiming that the pilots of “French warplanes sent from neighboring Mali to engage the enemy (…) refused to attack due to poor weather, rough terrain and an ability to differentiate friend from foe.” 1

That kind of statement is not only wrong in its formulation, it is certainly not helping at a time when the “fog of war” against Islamic Terror Groups is already dense or thick enough.

It is clear that a strong Coalition is needed to keep up the fighting in areas where terrorists are pouring in following the debacle of ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

Preparing the armament for the Mirage 2000 for the Mali operation, January 9, 2013, at the airbase in N’Djamena, Chad. Credit: French Ministry of Defense.

A debacle by the way made possible because of the strength of an ad hoc coalition, which succeeded in spite of incredible political divergences to implement a successful military strategy leading to the genuine and symbolic falls of Mosul and more recently Raqqa.

Winning these battles against terror has been possible because of a joint and united approach (even if temporarily) in the region.

The war against terror unfortunately goes on, and, as a result of those victories, with even more vigor in other parts of the world and especially the Sahel area.

According to a recent United Nations report, the number of attacks in that part of the world has increased by more than 100% between June and September of this year, while in October both Niger and Mali, and their border where the ambush occurred, have been the theater of increasing recruiting and violence by Al Qaida-linked Jihadists)(part of  “Jamaat Nosrat al-Islam wal-Mouslimin.”) 2

What has been characterizing this region for centuries is complex marble cake of multiple infighting, battles and trafficking which are constantly going on.

The current enemy – or more to the point, the enemies – have no border, are polymorphic, are always on the move and constantly adapt. 3

This observation has led to the way both US and French military forces have been operating in a theater, which other characteristics are its size and roughness.

Following the death of U.S. Green Berets in Niger, the political debate in Washington shifted once again about the War Powers Act and the need for an “africanization” of the fight against terrorism.

But this is exactly what has been going on in the past years with efforts to train and equip African partner nations and conduct trans-border mixed patrols.

Indeed, it is interesting to note that the ambush just took place when the armed force of the G5 countries – i.e. the five African countries involved in the fight against terrorists in Sahel (Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad) under a 2014 French initiative and military support via Barkhane Operation 4– had been preparing their very first joint military operation called Haw Bi 5 and when Washington was taking a decision whether or not to fund the G5 initiative.

So much for that calculation, if true, since Haw Bi did take place at the end of October and the Trump administration just decided to add some 60 million dollars to match the European Union and French financial support. 6

As for trying, through a false debate, to decouple the action of the two mains allies in a Coalition in which the Spanish and the German armed forces also participate, facts speak for themselves.

The truth is the truth.

Franco-American cooperation has been very successful over the past years, with the U.S. supporting the French forces in terms of ISR and logistics and the French maintaining a 3ooo to 4,000 men presence ever since 2014, while suffering casualties on a regular basis.

In the case of the October 4th ambush specifically and the question of French close air support, General Mattis himself rebuked any hint of criticism stressing that French jets were on site within thirty minutes of the call for help initiated from the ground.

And Colonel Patrick Steiger, spokesman for the Chief of Staff of the French armed forces, explained that the reason the Mirage 2000 only did a “show of force” and did not shoot was because of the imbrication of the fighters.

When you cannot distinguish between friends and foes, it is better to abstain from killing them all, isn’ it?

Military rules of engagement are the same for everybody on this one.

This reason alone is enough; but to go back to the Guardian’s asserted quote, poor weather could also be held responsible, since according to some published reported accounts of the ambush, one of the Green Berets’initial missions had been cancelled earlier on, precisely because of bad weather.

When the Mirage 2000 arrived although not on alert for that specific mission, the fight stopped and the enemy was dispersed limiting the number of casualties, while French Puma helicopters coming from Gao in nearby Mali evacuated injured soldiers.

A joint counter-offensive was organized right in the aftermath of the deadly attack. 7

Using the death of American soldiers for various domestic political agendas the way it is currently done inside the Beltway is nothing new, but it is no less revolting as well as aiding the terrorists more than focusing on ways to prevail.

References

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/nov/04/special-forces-unit-ambushed-in-niger-desperately-called-for-help-sources-say

http://edition.cnn.com/2017/10/04/politics/us-forces-hostile-fire-niger/index.html

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Murielle Delaporte is the editor of the French journal OPERATIONNELS and has been embedded with French forces in Mali and other areas in Africa and the Middle East. 

 

"If everyone is thinking alike, someone isn’t thinking."

—General George Patton Jr.

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