April 7, 2020

More Dying in More Places

By Stephen Tuttle | Oct. 28, 2017

Now we have combat deaths after militants supportive of the Islamic State ambushed four Green Berets in Niger. It's a good bet you, like several United States senators, didn't know we had troops in Niger. Or where it is.

Niger is the largest country in West Africa, with about 20.7 million people. Its neighbors include Libya and Algeria. There are loosely organized jihadist groups there committing random acts of violence.

We have 800 ground troops involved in counter-insurgency activities and training local troops. The “training” apparently involved trying to track down a militant leader.

Niger is not our only surprise outpost. We have troops in almost every country in Africa, 4,000 in all, training up locals all over the place. Many deployments are especially small contingents, fewer than a dozen.

Fully half that number, some 2,000 U.S. troops, are stationed in Djibouti at Camp Lemonnier, a naval expeditionary base. That's right, Djibouti. (Go ahead, use your atlas or globe, if you still have such things, and find it. Using the internet is cheating. We'll wait … .)

Find the northeast edge of Ethiopia and, tucked away on the coast, between a little strip of Eritrea and Somalia is tiny Djibouti. It's said to be a good location for “intelligence gathering” and it's at a strategic choke point between the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.

But we always have really good-sounding reasons for putting our troops everywhere. We're so good at it, we have troops — not counting embassy guards — in nearly 150 countries. We have them where they don't need us, like in Germany, and where they no longer want us, like in Japan. We have 27,000 in South Korea at potential risk from the maniac to their north. We have them in South America, Central America, on tiny islands in the middle of nowhere, and every place in between, except Antarctica.

We're nearly omnipresent. And nearly stretched to the breaking point. Lindsay Graham, the senator from South Carolina, says the war on terror is “moving to Africa.” That implies it's leaving someplace else. It is not. We're still fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and have our military noses in the mess that is most of the rest of the Middle East. That requires significant resources, human and otherwise, from every branch of the services. Expanding to Africa will require even more. 

We're threatening war with North Korea, which requires additional deployments, particularly of naval assets, and we've even threatened military intervention in Venezuela. It all puts enormous pressure on personnel we no longer have time to adequately train and equipment we no longer have time to adequately maintain.

Our human resources aren't the only thing that shows up all over the world. We're the No. 1  arms dealer by a mile, accounting for fully a third of all global sales. It's a $70 billion a year business, and we'll sell you everything from handguns to top-of-the-line fighter jets. 

Our top customer? That would be our good friends the Saudis, whose financial support of radical Islamic schools has been the incubator of all that has followed since 9/11.

We've sold so much stuff to so many countries, we now find ourselves fighting our own equipment in some places. We've inadvertently helped arm the Taliban and al Qaida, who capture U.S.-made equipment from local armies. Everywhere equipment is abandoned or stolen, it ends up being pointed back at us.

More than half a century ago, then-president Dwight Eisenhower, in his farewell address, warned us about the growing power of what he called the military-industrial complex. We ignored him. 

Politicians and the massive defense industry have now created a state of perpetual war. Arms manufacturers and dealers have cleverly expanded their operations into many states, gaining the support of local politicians. The same politicians demand more and more shiny new toys, including those the military has specifically said it doesn't need.

We spend a larger portion of our budget on the war machine than any other country in the world, with the likely exception of North Korea, and arm much of the rest of the world while we're at it.

Vice President Mike Pence recently said we are committed to fighting terrorists wherever they are. That would mean even more troops and more equipment in more places since jihadist militants of one sort or another have been active in nearly two dozen countries. If we're going to invest blood and treasure in all of them, we'd better reinstate the draft and increase taxes to help pay for it all.

More troops doing more dying in more places with more equipment to fight more enemies using more arms we've sold somebody else: It doesn't seem like a very good plan. 







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