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

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?

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