Our global missions: Soldiers serving as … dental hygiene teachers in Niger

· January 7, 2020  
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Why do we have a military?

This is the question nobody in Congress asks as they pass annual defense authorization and appropriations bills codifying our aimless deployments in well over 100 countries without an understanding of what each mission is accomplishing. Well, now that congressional Democrats are demanding answers from Trump on our posture toward Iran, they might want to also ask what in the world we are doing in places like Niger.

Last week, United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) put out a press release lauding the “first-ever dental hygiene course in Nigerien village.”

The U.S. Army 443rd Civil Affairs Battalion Civil Affairs Team 219, deployed to Nigerien Air Base 201, hosted the first-ever dental hygiene course for school children in the village of Tsakatalam, Niger, Dec. 14, 2019.

The team partnered with local Agadez city dentist, Dr. Mahaman Aicha, who taught the Tsakatalam Primary School children for the first time how to properly brush and floss their teeth and the importance of good oral health.

The release goes on to say how two airmen deployed to the 724th Expeditionary Air Base Squadron collected donations to purchase hygiene supplies as well.

These might sound like heartwarming PR efforts on behalf of the military, but the real question here is what we are doing in Niger to begin with? Why is there never any question about the interests of the United States, the prudence, or the legal authority to use our military as global civil engineers, doctors, and teachers?

However, what is worse than using our military for social work is using it for social work in a combat zone. Niger is not a safe place. It is full of Sunni terrorists who subscribe to the ideology of the Islamic State. We lost four soldiers there in October 2017 fighting with a dubious Nigerian force to combat the Islamic State. But nobody is asking how African terror groups affect us or have the ability to strike us or to shut down shipping lanes as Iran does. Nobody is asking which ground we are holding, on behalf of whom, and in what sort of sustainable way. And it’s not just Niger; we are doing this all across Africa. There are an estimated 6,000 troops on the African continent, largely highly trained special forces.

On October 4, 2017, 11 soldiers of the 3rd Special Forces Group were ambushed in Tongo, Niger, while stopping a convoy to meet with local villagers, resulting in four fatalities. A Pentagon report found that the soldiers were ill-prepared for the mission. Yet here we are over two years later, and we still have troops there engaging in social work. Why is there no desire in Congress to find out more about this mission? Why are there only legal and policy concerns about countering Iran, the one country that unambiguously attacked us multiple times recently?

Just this Sunday, with all the focus on Iraq and Iran, al-Shabab terrorists attacked a U.S. airstrip on the Kenyan coast, killing one American soldier and two American contractors. The adjacent base, Camp Simba, is used by our special forces to train Kenyan forces in the fight against Shabab. While Shabab, an offshoot of al Qaeda, is certainly a terrible collection of terrorists, what is it we hope to accomplish in Somalia and Kenya? Our operations there are all the more absurd when you consider that we’ve brought into our own country 130,000 Somali immigrants, and many of them have been caught with ties to terrorism. Some are suspected of funding those wars from our soil through welfare fraud! If it’s in our interests to go there, then by a factor of a million, isn’t it in our interests to ensure we cut off all immigration from these countries so they can’t come here, as well as fund the operations there?

It’s not that there is never a strategic purpose for us to have a base in a far-flung country as a logistical support for indispensable national security interests. And as part of that, there are times when it’s appropriate for the military to engage in community relations to build needed alliances.  But we need an operational audit of where we have troops, why they are there, what is the threat assessment, and what is the scope of their mission. Once we know what it is we are doing there, then we can do a cost-benefit analysis to determine whether it’s prudent and worth the cost to continue. The fact that none of these questions are ever asked of our missions in Africa, Syria, Iraq, or Afghanistan, except for when it comes to Iran, demonstrates that the inquiry by Congress into the Soleimani drone strike is all about politics and not about concern for our troops and our national security.

As I wrote, Congress nearly unanimously signed off on $71.5 billion in “overseas contingency operations” in the defense appropriations bill and the entire status quo of military deployments in the defense authorization bill just a few weeks ago. No questions were asked. Now that there is concern by some about our posture toward Iran, why not conduct a full audit of what it is we are doing everywhere in the Middle East and Africa?

The Trump administration is in the process of looking at drawing down our troops from western Africa. But Congress, with nothing better to do this year, should spend a week auditing each part of the world and our presence there so the public can actually weigh in on the prudence of these deployments.

Were we to conduct such an audit, we’d likely discover that we are depleting our resources and resolve for what largely does not threaten us at the expense of deterring China and using the military at our own border. China remains the biggest looming conventional threat to our country, in addition to its asymmetrical warfare against us through cyber attacks and espionage.

Our border has cartels, transnational gangs, and scores of previously deported sex offenders and murderers coming over every day. Border Patrol catches some of them, as we see from daily press releases, but many of the most sinister elements successfully infiltrate, and we never know about it until one of them is arrested in one of our communities. Although these criminals might not sound as cool as Islamic terrorist groups in the Middle East, they affect our security and safety exponentially more than what goes on overseas. Remember, just one year’s worth of detainers lodged by ICE included aliens charged with 2,500 homicides, 56,000 assaults, 14,500 sex crimes, 5,000 robberies, and 2,500 kidnappings. That doesn’t even begin to factor in the scope of the drug traffickers killing 70,000 people a year.

Shockingly, the same pencil-heads in Congress and in the various executive departments who believe it’s totally within constitutional authority to deploy soldiers as dentists in Africa believe we can’t aggressively deploy our military to combat the Mexican cartels at our own border who enable all this death and carnage in our communities.

Moreover, ultimately, foreign terror groups can only affect us here if we have an open border with Mexico or bring them in through our broken visa system.

We need not spend trillions deploying soldiers all over the world to engage in social work and dental hygiene lessons in order to protect Americans. We need only to put our interests first and stop self-destructing through immigration policies while using our military where it can most effectively protect Americans. Keeping us out of the insufferable tribal wars in other countries will preserve our soldiers, treasure, and deterrent against China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran. That is what our Founders envisioned as the purpose of our military. They certainly never envisioned them as the global dentists.

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Author: Daniel Horowitz

Daniel Horowitz is a senior editor of Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @RMConservative.