FACT CHECK: Does The US Have 800 Troops In Niger?

Shane Devine | Fact Check Reporter

Republican Sen. Rand Paul claimed via Twitter that 800 American soldiers are currently stationed in the African country of Niger.

“American soldiers stationed in Niger: 800,” he wrote.

Verdict: True

An official with the Department of Defense (DOD) said in recent remarks that the U.S. has had an on-and-off presence in Niger for more than 20 years and that 800 DOD personnel are currently stationed there.

Fact Check:

The remarks were part of a press briefing held on May 10, 2018 to discuss the findings of an investigation into the 2017 ambush of military forces in Niger that resulted in the deaths of four American soldiers. The ambush garnered national attention, leading many to question why the U.S. was there in the first place.

Robert Karem, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, explained during the briefing that the U.S. presence in Niger has coincided with destabilizing conflicts in Libya and Mali.

The U.S. deployed troops to Niger in the early 2000s as part of an initiative to train and equip African militaries. This was done to prevent terrorism, based on the idea that weak or failing states could become hotspots for recruiting terrorists.

Former President Barack Obama ramped up the U.S. presence when, in 2013, he ordered 100 troops to the area to conduct unmanned reconnaissance missions over Mali. By December 2016, there were 575 troops in the country and 645 troops by June 2017.

Karem explained that only a “small fraction” of the 800 troops there today are special ops forces engaged in training and assisting Nigerien forces and that none are intended for direct combat.

“The majority of DOD personnel in Niger are supporting air operations at the airfield in Niamey, or construction of an airfield in Agadez,” Karem said. Paul tweeted about Niger in response to an article by The Intercept that criticized the $280 million price tag of the Agadez air base.

The senator is well-known for his anti-interventionist stances and frequently argues that Congress must exert greater control over the war-making process.

“We’re currently at war in Mali, in Niger – we have like a thousand troops there along the border in Mali and Niger, these sub-Saharan countries in Africa. And yet, we’ve never had a debate,” he told Newsy in June. “I have only a superficial knowledge of who’s fighting there and why they’re fighting there, and we had four of our young men died chasing a herdsman, and its like, really? Shouldn’t we be at least debating why we’re in Africa, why we’re at war in Africa?”

Although Congress has conducted some oversight activities related to counterterrorism efforts in the region, there has been no formal military authorization for Niger. Obama sent Congress a letter about the deployment of troops to Niger in 2013, citing his power to conduct foreign relations and his authority as commander in chief.

Neither Obama nor President Donald Trump have cited the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), a bill that gave the president the authority to pursue organizations responsible for or connected to the 9/11 attacks. Presidents have relied on the AUMF to justify military action in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, who generally supports U.S. intervention abroad, said after the 2017 ambush that he “didn’t know” there were so many American troops in Niger, but defended the military’s presence in the region. “They were there to defend America. They were there to help allies. They were there to prevent another platform to attack America and our allies,” he said.

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Shane Devine

Fact Check Reporter