We're in Niger and Dozens of Other Countries for a Very Good Reason

Of all the questions that linger over the loss of four special operations soldiers in Niger, perhaps the most persistent is: Why are we there?We're used to having U.S. troops in Asia and the Middle East, but Niger? Is our national security enhanced by what they were trying to do there?The short answer is yes. To understand why, take a closer look at what our troops were doing and why. The mission in Niger, which began in 2013, was a classic special operations operation more specifically known as a foreign internal defense.That's an old-school term for the most fundamental task we give our Green Berets (which I served in for 28 years). A small team goes into a foreign country to work with that nation's military to better prepare it to deal with its own problems.This occurs during what the military calls phase zero, which is prior to when a bigger conflict emerges. It's done in coordination with the host nation's civilian government and the entire country team at the U.S. Embassy.This is not a clandestine Hollywood commando mission or a suicide raid. It is overt and open. Its purpose is to build rapport with the host nation's military, to improve its capabilities, to gather open source intelligence and to learn both the lay of the land and the local players.The U.S. has conducted these kinds of missions worldwide since the 1950s. At times, we have had as few as a dozen of these operations, and at other times several hundred in 80-plus countries simultaneously.These routine missions have short-circuited conflicts on nearly every continent in the world at one time or another.They are also inherently dangerous. The teams are small, ranging from a pair of operators up to a few dozen. There are seldom more than 100 U.S. troops.So why do we put such small teams at risk? The answer is simply that the return is worth it. Often, the use of a small, mature and low-profile group of quiet professionals can have greater success than a large, high-profile deployment.  Continue reading...

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