Wednesday, October 18, 2017

There Was A Young Lady From Niger

The latest outrage by, about, and surrounding the Tangerine Toddler seems to concern what he may have said, or not said, to the mother of a U.S. Special Forces sergeant killed along with three other NCOs in what I presume was his training/advising team in the northern African country of Niger.

While I yield to no one in my contempt for Five-Deferment Donnie as a wanna-be großer Feldherr, this is ridiculous.

Trump, idiotic as he is, didn't put these people there. AFRICOM, and the elements of the 3rd Special Forces Group that were operating with the unit of the FAN, the Forces Armees Nigerinnes or Nigerien Army, have been in-country for some time. A large multinational exercise, Flintlock 2017, involved the FAN as well as US, Belgian, Australian, and Canadian regulars back in February to early March of this year.

The real question in my mind has nothing to do with short-fingered vulgarians. It has to do with what the fuck are the United States' "national interests" in Niger?

From the descriptions I've read the place looks like a goddamn dumpster fire politically, economically, socially, and environmentally. It's grossly under-resourced and overpopulated. Desertification is pressuring an already fissured multi-tribal society that - crucially bad for social cohesion - is divided into semi-nomadic pastoralists and subsistence farmers. The war between nomads and settled peoples is older than Sumer and anyone, particularly a foreign Great Power, that intends to do anything but deal with the survivors through a slot in a locked and heavily armored door is a complete and utter fool.

The neighboring countries are largely also impoverished, socially chaotic, politically unstable shitholes (Mali? Seriously? Mali is like Mad Max's Thunderdome only with more fucking mayhem. If your neighbors are Mali I suggest you start getting to know them by sowing a thick belt of mines along your spite fence...)

The "government" of Niger seems to be the usual collection of shady African types, and the FAN tends to liven things up by coup-ing every so often (the last one was just back in 2010).

Taken altogether the joint makes Honduras look like Switzerland.

So it appears that the official justification for USAFRICOM involvement, and the patrolling mission that got these SF troopers killed, was, as always...wait for it...waaaaait for it...


Yep. The usual suspects, of course; Al Qaeda, the Islamic State, local franchisees like Boko know, your basic Scary Dark People.

Mind you...nobody seems to be asking just exactly who these jokers are.

Because my guess would be "local tribesmen who are pissed off at some other local tribesmen" or "young men without a job looking to make something out of an AK-47 and the willingness to use it" with a side order of "The usual assholes who think that shooting someone is easier than working for a living".

And, of course, the explanation for how teaching one of these bunches of Chaos Warriors to kill the others because Surely That Will Solve The Problem of "Terrorism" is...

...well, kinda nothing. At least nothing sensible. The tribal grudges aren't going away. The political instability isn't, either. The desertification is, if anything, getting worse and so, inevitably, will the clashes between the herdspeople squabbling over shrinking grazing land with farmers whose cropland is becoming increasingly marginal.

The notion of sending U.S. troopers into this hot mess to do...something something defeat "terrorism" is beneath ridiculous.

There is nothing in Niger worth the bones of an Oregonian grenadier.

And there are no "terrorism" problems in Niger that a bullet will solve.

Unless the 3rd SFG(a) is willing to use every bullet ever cast, and more, and leave the land of Niger an empty waste, and call it "peace".
"Who smiled as she rode on a tiger.
They returned from the ride
With the lady inside.
And the smile on the face of the tiger."

Update 10/19: One thing that does kind of bug me (as a GI) about the Niger thing.

What I get from the reports is that four of the SF team were killed or DOW and one FAN trooper.

That suggests to me that either 1) the guerrillas had terrific intel and knew exactly where and when to initiate their ambush so as to target and kill the Americans quickly, or 2) the FAN unit fell apart under pressure and the SF guys had to (or tried to - it sounds like the FAN rabble was driven off the kill zone in disorder) rally the gomers and, as is often the case, ended up getting killed exposing themselves to enemy fire.

Which, in turn, makes me wonder; why the hell would any smart and experienced NCOs lead a shitshow like this FAN outfit in a patrol in an AO like the Mali border? We're talking the fucking wild, wild West here. The chances that a savvy group of local G's would have way better eyes and ears on the ground and way better knowledge of the ground and way better discipline than whatever this FAN gaggle had seem close to 100% (as it turned out).

Were the FAN officers overconfident? Did the SF team leaders try to talk them out of whatever the fuck they thought they were doing and fail (and have to tag along on this death-ride or lose face with the locals?) Or was the SF team the one that got their baby ducklings in troubled waters?

Either way, there seems to have been some sort of massive fail on a number of levels, including knowledge of the local conditions, assessment of the competence level of the FAN unit, and combat command and control.

Which - since, as I mentioned, the contact between US and FAN troopers is of some standing - makes me question, again, the effectiveness of the U.S. military assistance programs. We've already seen in Afghanistan and Iraq the general worthlessness of U.S. "training" and trainers. The local levies seem to emerge from the U.S. programs just as shit as before they went in (and if you can't get Afghans - some of the fightingest people on Earth - to fight you 're doing it wrong). In a sense I'm hoping that there was some element(s) involved beyond the straightforward reports I'm hearing.

But in another, this just reminds me again what a generally piss-poor job that the U.S. Army seems to do with "training" foreign troops. And, again, the overall worthlessness of these military assistance missions. The most common product always seems to be a national army that's better at coups than anything else.


  1. The fundamental problem is that Westerners at home cannot tell the difference between civil war warriors that operate in warbands under a brand like "IS" or "AQ" on the one hand and actual terrorists who try to hit Westerners at home or on vacation.

    That was already obvious in 2002 when the AQ "shock troops" were bodycounted as if they were all terrorists, not simply jihadist mercenaries.

    This is kinda reminiscent of the inability to tell the difference between actual Bolshevists and African decolonialisation fighters (and Vietnamese nationalists) in the 60's and 70's. This inability to see the difference leads to stupid, often self-harming, foreign policies.

  2. I was kind of thinking about how this was sort of a mirror of how the U.S. spent a ton of the post-mid-century fighting, or lending help to local colonial or post-colonial despotic regimes suppressing local rebellions or anticolonial uprisings. IT seemed like all any tinpot caudillo had to do was scream "COMMIES!!!" and Uncle Sugar would fill his rice bowl. Hell, Reagan's dumb-ass was doing that in Central America all the way up nearly into the 90's.

    Substitute "TERRORISTS!!!" for commies and you can fast-forward twenty years.

    Again, the critical thing here is that there are no good options for fucking Niger. The place is pretty much doomed outside of a massive investment in every possible aspect of the joint, and that'd coast a gajillion times what throwing an SF battalion at it would. No Congresscritter would raise taxes a nickel to pay for it.

    Nope. This is a black hole of blood and treasure and it will swallow everything the Western governments can throw into it without so much as a hiccup.

    1. Fear makes people easily manipulated.
      I don't say it's a conspiracy; I think it just falls in place together naturally, and the outcome resembles history.

      As I wrote in 2009,
      “Especially remarkable is the fear. Extreme fear. Fear of their own fictions. Seriously, I’ve never encountered a single non-U.S. American who came close to the top 50 fear-driven Americans I’ve been in contact with. The closest one was an Israeli. What’s up about this fear of everything?

      I didn’t notice this rule of fear before 9/11, but history tells us that it’s not such a new phenomenon. Red scare, yellow scare, communist subversion scare, missile gap, domino theory – apparently even ceding control of the Panama Canal raised the fear factor.

      Most scares were completely off, and some were badly exaggerated. A rational being would become skeptic about present and future fear fashions given that track record of past fear fashions.

      Seriously, what’s up with this fear of outlandish scenarios? I don’t get it.”

      Nowadays I would have to admit that I've gotten in contact with some German fearful pussies. They had ridiculous xenophobic fears. I can muter empathy for people who simply don't want foreigners in their neighbourhood, but certain ridiculous outlandish nonsense fears are embarrassing. They allow for an instant, fairly reliable two digit estimate of the IQ.

    2. I'm proud to say that my only fear is about heights. Don't expect me to lean over a balcony, ever.

      One time some obvious steroid user in the gym changing room became aggressive to me. He weighed twice as much. I dried my feet, ensured that I had firm footing and prepared to snap his knee if he made a wrong move. Eventually, he calmed down.

      For comparison, lots of people are terrified by utterly implausible fictions. It's like they never grew out of the "monster in my closet" age.

    3. Agreed. I've always felt that this sort of irrational monkey-brain fear is the best argument for evolution. There's a hell of a lot of us that revert to shrieking and flinging branches when the thunder peals overhead.

      My personal example is flying (bizarre for a former paratroop sergeant, but there you have it). I'm rationally familiar with all the statistical data that proves that my life is in more danger driving to and from the airport than between takeoff and landing. But rationality goes out my earhole when that airliner takes off; I'm just a scaredy-cat about flying and no amount of thoughtful ratiocination helps me get over it.

      What's kind of infuriating, though, is the degree to which 1) unscrupulous politicians KNOW that and play on it, and 2) the degree to which almost all big media outlets let themselves get (or enthusiastically jump all in on getting) played.

      So as much as this is about people's idiot monkey fears, I think there's a hell of a lot that's deliberate, both on the part of people seeking power from that fear, and from people trying to make money from it. And that's truly loathsome.

    4. (Ironically, I feel perfectly safe in the flimsiest, most wind-shaken ultralight plane...but a 3rd floor balcony built with reinforced concrete is too flimsy.)

      I'm no psychologist or anthropologist (but I am sure they could do a much better job helping societies by disseminating their findings better!). Still, way too many problems appear to be rooted in us being wired for life in small and simple stone age hunter-gatherer clans that are in near-constant conflict for hunting grounds. Almost everyone seems ready to mobilize the own clan for war against another clan at the slightest insult, and almost everyone wants to avoid the slightest signal of weakness of the own clan - or even only be part of a weak clan.
      Furthermore, people become adults at age 14 in those clan societies. That wiring is causing a ridiculous amount of everyday problems in our societies.

      BTW, I suppose part of the American political extremism problem is that by now people have risen to power who are stupid enough to believe in the propaganda of their own faction.
      There's a huge difference between smart cynical politicians who feed propaganda to their followers and followers who actually believe the ideology crap and become politicians.

  3. "The real question in my mind has nothing to do with short-fingered vulgarians. It has to do with what the fuck are the United States' "national interests" in Niger?"

    Hmmm...good question.


    What usually draws the US to small landlock countries with no discernible military, or strategic valu...oh...wait...

    So...what does the vaunted CIA have about Niger?

    desert; mostly hot, dry, dusty; tropical in extreme south"

    Yeah, don't see a long of elected Gov types Bebopping around there...

    predominately desert plains and sand dunes; flat to rolling plains in south; hills in north", so...a bit huge chunk of nuth'n.

    "Natural resources:
    uranium, coal, iron ore, tin, phosphates, gold, molybdenum, gypsum, salt, petroleum"

    Welp, there you go...

    Which...upon clicking on business... you go Chief...

    "As for the petroleum sector, Niger officially became an oil producer in November 2011with the coming on stream of three oil deposits in the Agadem basin and the commissioning of the 20,000 barrels per day (bpd) refinery at Zinder. The estimated FDI inflows associated with the development of the Agadem oil bloc were US$1.3 billion for the oil field, US$350 million for an oil pipeline to Chad, and about US$1.2 billion for the Zinder refinery. In addition, the Trans-Saharan
    Gas Pipeline (TSGP), of which Niger is expected to share 841 km (out of an estimated 4,128 km-long pipeline across Nigeria, Niger and Algeria), will bring additional FDI representing Niger‗s share of the estimated US$13 billion for installing the pipeline and associated gathering centers."

    I'm still looking to see which company has it's tidy little fingers on the flow of oil, but I suspect we're there with specialized troops...gonna have to say either an American company, or one of our allys who don't want to get their toesies all in a twitter.

    1. Sheerakhan -

      China's oil giant CNPC has been there for over a decade. They made the investments where US and French companies did not want to take the risks to or dragged their feet on because of the pipeline issues.

    2. I had never heard of CNPC, so I typed into google, and looked what popped up...

    3. sheerakhan -

      Reading the products and services link on that website about the US subsidiary, it seems they are a engineering firm providing technical services. They supply specialized drilling equipment and material. Selling American technology to the Chinese. Including what the call 'ultra conditions' in other words fracking fluids & equipment. Better the Chinese do the fracking than us is what I say.

  4. Remember Children, it's all about Money and Power.

    1. The Bush family and the Koch brothers may own a chunk of stock in that company.

    2. It's pointless to write such an unfounded speculation.

      Go, look at the register and see who owns the shares.

  5. I don't think fear had anything to do with it. We went to Niger originally to set up a drone base at the request of the French who were fighting AQ jihadis in Mali just across the border. The French had been helping our efforts. So we responded.

    Reports are that now another drone base is being built and there are approx 800 US troops in Niger, but most are engineers constructing the second drone base. 100 or so are Special Forces, not sure how the Special Forces got involved.

    There were 12 Green berets and approximately 30 to 40 Nigeriens on a meet and greet with local village elders so probably only lightly armed. Most of the Nigeriens were soldiers but most likely a few were officials from Tillabery or Niamey.

    Reports are that five Nigeriens were killed not one. Not sure whether those were soldiers or villagers or government officials. The thinking is the perps crossed the border from Mali into Niger. They were probably former Boko Haram, now known as the IS Wilayat of West Africa or whatever name they have morphed into lately.

    Some retired general turned pundit was bloviating on the news earlier today that Africa is such a huge country that it would have been impossible to give the SF intel coverage. Yet the drone base in Niamey, if it is still working, was only just over 200km from the ambush site. I have no clue which drone types are stationed there. If they could do longer missions over Mali then why was there not one overhead this mission? But dust and high winds and temps make for tough maintenance and tough launch conditions. Even in October that area can get temps over 100. And those Sahel winds generate a lot of dust.

    1. Thing is, mike, Mali is Bandit Country. That's not a black swan. If this SF team and their FAN counterparts weren't anticipating trouble so close to Mali they damn well should have been. That ties into the LTG's comment in the CNN piece I linked to about how the area had been quiet for so long. Y'think? Maybe the area wasn't as peaceful as it looked from drone-height, or to an S-2 who had no reliable assets on the ground there. Drones-schmones, this stinks to me of someone shaping the intel to the mission (or shaping the lack-of-intel into evidence of absence rather than absence of evidence).

      It's one thing to spend money on some semi-failed African state. That will always be doomed to political failure. IT's just not polite in U.S. government or military circles to mention that upfront. But it's quite another to throw in slipshod military craftsmanship.

  6. To s-khan

    I haven't been around regularly for a very long while, and only stop by when something from here pops up occasionally that I can't miss. I read your recent post here just now, and want to wish you well.
    Out of no particular reason your name pops up in my head from time to time, and I wonder what you're up to and the other half and fully forgotten denizens of this site and before that I've known.
    I'm at that age too where Death and Illness for me and kin are inevitable.
    My deep and sincere condolence for your in-laws' passing and wishing very much for a good outcome for your current condition.

  7. Five or one, that's a piss-poor ratio of leaders-to-led casualties. Just reinforces my suspicion that this FAN platoon (and a full A-team with just a platoon? WTF is up with that?) fell apart.

    And the drone support thing might have helped...or not. As the Army found out in SW Asia, there's no substitute for eyes on the ground. If they couldn't get those my guess is that this part of the Mali frontier is pretty much completely out of government control.

    Still looking like a massive cluster of fuck to me.

  8. Sounds like this was more confusing that I have described it. This CNN article ( makes it sound like the SF team was doing some sort of meet with locals rather than a purely military operation. There's no real detail on the FAN outfit was nearby or what the government troops were doing.

    One thing that did make me laugh was this: "Joint Staff director Lt. Gen. Kenneth Mckenzie said the patrol that was attacked had completed 29 patrols in the area without contact with hostile fighters over the previous six months or so and there was no indication an attack would occur on October 4."

    Well no shit, Sherlock. How the hell do you think guerrillas operate? Dave Hackworth used to complain about the U.S. Army's "CRSS" - Can't Remember Shit Syndrome. This seems to me to be a perfect example. No, LTG Dumbfuck, local-force G's don't jump out of the bush every time a government patrol wanders by. They watch and wait, they learn the government troops' bad habits and figure out how to take advantage of them. They use their contacts among the local people to learn where and when the government troops will be and how to attack them in the most effective way.

    Beyond that, this nonsense about how "ISIS" is somehow SPECTRE and their Malian or Nigerien leader (codename "Goldfinger") is somehw infiltrating Nigerian gold production to finance "global terrorism"?

    Honestly, sometimes it's hard to understand how freakishly gullible people are until I think; "President Trump" and then I'm all "Yeah, okay. I can see how that could happen..."

  9. >>Honestly, sometimes it's hard to understand how freakishly gullible people are until I think; "President Trump" and then I'm all "Yeah, okay. I can see how that could happen..."<<

    You don't even need "President Trump"
    Dubya comes out with a canned and paid-for bit of political babbling on a salver about Trump's failings and immediately is proclaimed "statesman" and "the voice of reason"

    1. The gullible willingness of the American public to absolve political shitheels is truly despicable. Even Tricky Dick Nixon was almost rehabilitated by the time he died. My loathing for Dubya and his Sith Lord Darth Cheney is evergreen because of the many of my Army brothers they butchered in their Iraq adventure. Statesman my rosy red ass.

  10. FDChief -

    That entire border area of Mali, Niger, Northern Nigeria, and Burkina Faso has the deepest poverty and poorest education in the world with the possible exception of South Sudan. There have been subsistence gold diggers/panners in that area for many decades. In Syria when Daesh were at their peak, oil was being sold by them to Erdogan's son in Turkey and to Syrian dealers who sold it in Assad controlled areas. For myself, I see no reason why Daesh in Niger or Mali or wherever would not try to do the same. But this time extorting small scale or subsistence gold miners. Although there are no indications I have seen that they have taken over a large scale mine or are extorting the same. In any case, IMHO I do not see them using these small profits to finance world terrorism. They would use it the same way that insurgents and warlords used 'blood diamonds' - weapons and women.

    A Canadian company (SEMAFO) had interest in a large scale mine (Samira Hill) there in the same province of Niger where the ambush took place. The Niger government had a twenty percent interest. But they (SEMAFO) may have sold their share? If so, why? Not profitable enough? Too risky? I have no clue.

    Shortfingered? I am in the dark here FDChief, what is all this finger business about? My Grandma used to accuse me of being a butterfingered angel, may she rest in peace. And my wife and her sisters have some cockeyed theory about ringfinger/indexfinger ratios that made their cousin Brucee turn into a switchhitter. But what is the latest shortfinger hypothesis? Google shows no data I can find.

    1. Back in the Eighties, when young Donnie was all over New York playing the part of the Rich Party Playboy, Spy magazine enjoyed making fun of him as a tasteless, overcompensating clod. They hung him with the tag "short-fingered vulgarian", lampooning his gilded-toilet tastes and his obvious egotistical coverup of his vast insecurity.

      Thus all the "little hands" jokes.

  11. National interests.

    Well, the USA isn’t the only western nation in the region. France, Germany and Italy also have troops and airfields at work in Niger. For France, perpetuating a version of Francafrique/Fashoda syndrome; maintaining access to uranium; and stemming migration are all clear interests. For Germany and Italy, the migration issue by boat across the Med seems to be the driving factor. If you equate interests with “ends” in the “ends-ways-means” model of strategic planning, then there you go. But I think the migration issue, which is really exacerbated by revised European policies following the Syrian civil war, is poorly understood. West Africa may be resource rich, but is shockingly poor and is dependent on remittances ( Economic migration is built into the social culture. Further, there are economic studies showing that until a country reaches a per capita income of about $7,500, migration will continue to rise ( Despite this, western nations seem to think that military aid is the solution, even though other studies have shown that such aid is actually as likely to be destabilizing, especially if the armed forces being helped maintain ties with violent non-state actors (, and can have mixed results in whether or not they decrease or increase predatory behaviour by government forces ( Predatory behaviour, in turn, degrades trust in government institutions, contributing to radicalization of populations (

    In other words, France, Germany and Italy have done an ends (curb migration) - ways (CT/training) - means (SOF, UAVs, money) analysis. I think the analysis is flawed and that it will be ineffective, but at least there are signs that there was some thought. Unfortunately, that thought aligns with the militarization of everything. I suspect that for not much more financial investment those same countries could build some desalination plants in Western Sahara and run a water pipeline through Mauritania, Mali, Niger and Chad to bring irrigation to the frontier between pastoralists and farmers.

    But that would involve high upfront costs which are politically more difficult to sell than the steady water-torture drip of military spending.

    And how any of that relates to American interests is beyond me.

    1. Yeah, how you "stabilize" Niger by teaching the FAN to be "better" is a mystery to me. Usually these Third World "armies" are pretty much goons in uniforms protecting whoever pays their wages, meaning whoever qualifies as the elites around the capital (I like the old Kenyan formulation "Wa-Benzi", "the tribe of the Mercedes Benz").

      As you point out, stabilizing Nigerien society by improving simple things like irrigation and access to clean water and regular meals would do more to suppress these local guerrillas than all the bullets in Rockford Arsenal. But that'd require doing some actual intelligent long-term thinking about "what would a less-troubling Central West Africa look like" and we're seeing dramatically how bad the Western nations are at intelligent long-term thinking.