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AFRICOM seeks danger pay for troops deployed to Niger

Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, commander of the U.S. Africa Command, testifies before the House Committee on Armed Services during a hearing Tuesday, March 6, 2018, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

CARLOS BONGIOANNI/STARS AND STRIPES

By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 6, 2018

STUTTGART, Germany — U.S. Africa Command is seeking danger pay for troops deployed to Niger, a move that comes after an ambush that killed four soldiers and that will likely result in greater oversight of military operations in the region.

AFRICOM chief Gen. Thomas Waldhauser said during testimony before Congress on Tuesday that his command’s investigation into the ambush has been completed and is in the hands of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis for review. Waldhauser declined to elaborate on the report until Mattis has finalized it and family members of the fallen have been briefed on its findings.

However, when asked why some 800 troops deployed in Niger don’t get danger pay even as others in less volatile places such as Kenya do, Waldhauser said an effort is underway to remedy the situation.

“We had already submitted a packet for Niger to qualify for imminent danger pay and understand it’s at the national level now for final approval,” he said.

The Oct. 4 ambush in a remote stretch of terrain in western Niger has brought increased scrutiny to military efforts in Africa.

The Associated Press on Monday reported that AFRICOM’s investigative report would conclude that the special operations team on the ground in Niger didn’t get required senior command approval for its mission to capture a high-level Islamic State militant. The investigation is expected to call for a more senior level approval within AFRICOM for conducting missions deemed of higher risk.

Still, while there are scores of extremist groups in Africa, with a range of alliances and agendas, military officials acknowledge that none of them currently pose a direct threat to the United States.

“Why should we care?” Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, asked Waldhauser during the hearing. Is there anything in Africa that “justifies sending United States men and women in there ... at risk of their lives?” he asked.

Waldhauser said the goal is to contain extremists in places such as Niger, Mali and Somalia and develop local forces to lead the fight against them.

“At the present time they do not have the capability to conduct operations in the United States, but they certainly aspire to do that,” he said. “We are trying to prevent something from happening before it does.”

During the past year, the military has stepped up missions in Africa. Troop numbers have steadily climbed in Niger and Somalia, where more than 30 air strikes were conducted in 2017.

In Libya, a small number of U.S. troops also operate a counterterrorism mission, Waldhauser said. While the U.S. seeks to bolster the standing of Libya’s fragile government, there is concern that Russia is seeking a foothold there with weapons sales and a presence on NATO’s southern doorstep. The Russians could try to “squeeze out” the U.S., Waldhauser said.

vandiver.john@stripes.com
Twitter: @john_vandiver

Chairman of the House Committee on Armed Services Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, listens to testimony from Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, commander of the U.S. Africa Command, during a hearing Tuesday, March 6, 2018, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Thornberry asked Waldhauser if there is anything in Africa that “justifies sending United States men and women in there ... at risk of their lives?"
CARLOS BONGIOANNI/STARS AND STRIPES

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