Sen. Rand Paul has sent a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin demanding to know more about the Pentagon's role in Niger, which recently underwent a coup wherein Niger's US-trained military overthrow the democratically elected US-backed president.
Naturally, the senator from Kentucky has some questions. The letter was sent Tuesday and subsequently obtained by Politico. Among Paul's chief aims is to assess just how many American troops are still in Niger, which is now being ruled by a junta, which includes Brig. Gen. Moussa Salaou Barmou, who received training by elite US forces.
"Under what authorities, and or what purpose did U.S. forces provide training to Moussa Salaou Barmou or any other Nigerien forces and coup leaders who overthrew President Mohamed Bazoum," Paul asked in the letter.
He's further demanding to know which specific Niger forces were beneficiaries of US security aid and support, and where US-supplied equipment went.
"Is the Department of Defense concerned that any current recipients of funds, training, equipment or other kinds support ... is currently engaged in human rights violations or engaged in human rights violations in the last ten years," Paul wrote.
The stakes couldn't be higher, given the potential for broader regional war with foreign forces (including the French) in the middle, as Responsible Statecraft's Kelly Vlahos points out:
There are 1,016 U.S. troops still in Niger — a virtual powderkeg of political and military unrest since an armed junta overthrew its president and locked him and his family in the basement of the government palace in late July.
As a result, regional governments under the banner of ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) is threatening to intervene militarily until the still-imprisoned leader is restored to office. The coup leaders have responded by rallying the people to their cause, as well as other armed juntas in the region.
Below are a couple more pointed questions from the letter, which seem to allude remotely to the recent Afghan pullout fiasco:
How many countries is the U.S. military operating in under the 2001 AUMF? How many are operating under Sections 333 and 127e of the U.S Code, and who specifically is receiving aid and training in those countries? How much money went to Niger?
Aside from the tragic deaths of four American soldiers in October 2017 in an ambush, how many service members have come under fire in Niger since 2013? Under what authorities are being used to keep a U.S. military footprint there now?
It should be noted that coup leaders like Brig. Gen. Barmou weren't just trained by the Pentagon in Africa, but in his case he attended military schooling at Fort Benning, Georgia and the National Defense University in Washington, D.C.
"As citizens of a Constitutional republic," Sen. Paul concluded in his letter, "Americans must be informed of hostilities involving the Armed Forces so that the people can participate in national debates over war and peace."