Staff Sgt. Bryan Black
Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson
Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright.
I wanted to put their names at the top of this thread, because it feels like they have totally been forgotten in the news coverage of Trump's handling of this this week. What this has turned into is so disheartening and so demoralizing... on so many levels…. But we can't avoid the elephant in the room, so I will address that first, and then return to what happened in Niger.
I want to be factual, and try not to read intent into what people did or said this week, partly to shorten it, and partly because the whole situation is so distasteful.
I am doing this because I don't think ignoring awful things and problems makes things change. Talking and doing may require sensitively and delicacy, and all I can hope is that I am up to the task in starting this thread, though I imagine I will hit the wrong note at some point.
Wed Oct 4:
- Four U.S. soldiers, named at the top of this post, were killed, it is believe by ISIS fighters. 2 more were injured.
- WH staffers prepared a statement for Trump to give the following day, but the statement was never given.
- Instead Huckabee-Sanders gave a standard "our thoughts and prayers" sentiment.
- Sanders is asked why there had been no response from Trump to the soldiers killed in Niger. Sanders responded that the statement the prior day was made on behalf of the administration.
Mon Oct 16:
- A reporter asked Trump: "Why haven't we heard anything from you so far on" the soldier deaths in Niger.
- Trump said he felt "badly about that" that those "are the toughest calls I have to make" and that past POTUS's, including Obama, hadn't written or called families of slain servicemen (incorrect), though later backtracked slightly saying "I was told that he didn't often."
Morning - In a radio interview Trump suggest reporters ask his chief of staff John Kelly, a former four-star Marine General and gold-star father, whether Obama called Kelly when his son Robert died in the line of duty in 2010. (Obama didn't make a call but had had Kelly at an event honouring gold-star families).
At some point before the condolence call (up next) Trump indicated he wanted to do more than send a letter, he wanted to call the gold-star families. Kelly advised Trump against it, and also said it was one of the hardest things to do, and that there was nothing Trump could do to lighten the burden on this families. When Trump persisted Kelly told Trump how he was told about his son's military death and that he didn't get a call from Obama. Gen. Joseph Dunford, now chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (I think he knew Kelly) said to Kelly that his son "was doing exactly what he wanted to do when he was killed. He knew what he was getting into. He knew what the possibilities were because we're at war", and that "when he died he was surrounded by the best men on this Earth, his friends."
Afternoon - With WH staffers present Trump called Sgt. La David T. Johnson's widow to give condolences while she is in a limo on the way to pick up her spouse's body and casket. Other family members, including the Sgt.'s mother and at least one long-time close-family friend (Congresswoman Frederica Wilson) are in the car and the widow put Trump on speaker. Trump said something to the effect that Sgt. La David T. Johnson "knew what he signed up for but I guess it still hurts".
Evening - Sanders confirmed Trump has called the families of the four soldiers killed in Niger.
Late Evening - On CNN the Congresswoman told her version of events, including the part where Trump said the Sgt. "knew what he signed up for but I guess it still hurts", and also said the widow said Trump didn't even remember/use the Sgt.'s name, Trump referred to him as "your guy". She also shares the widow just recently found out that there can't be an open casket due to the condition of the body.
Morning - Trump tweets that Congresswoman Wilson "totally fabricated" what he told the widow, and he has proof (a lie).
- The Sgt.'s mother tells CNN that Wilson's account was "very accurate".
Afternoon - The information about the unreleased statement prepared Oct 5th gets reported on the news.
Afternoon - Chief of Staff John Kelly takes the podium during the White House daily briefing. He starts his remarks by recounting in deep detail what happens when a soldier is killed overseas. He shared that the next-of-kin are informed by a casualty officer. He said his family got calls from from his son's military friends attesting to his character and those calls were the most important. He shares what counselling/advise he gave Trump before the call. He says "There's no perfect way to make that phone call".
- He does not contradict Wilson's or the Sgt.'s mother's version of events.
- He slams the congresswoman and said he was shocked and stunned over her behaviour, calling her an empty barrel. He also did not refer to her by name, but as "a member of congress" "a congresswoman". He made it sound as if she was somehow improper in listening in on that condolence phone call (per before, she was a long-time family friend, they asked for her to be with them), adding "I thought at least that was sacred", and then goes on a screed about lost sacredness in our culture, "You know, when I was a kid growing up, a lot of things were sacred in our country. Women were sacred, looked upon with great honour. That's obviously not the case anymore as we see from recent cases. Life - the dignity of life - is sacred. That's gone. Religion, that seems to be gone as well. Gold Star families, I think that left in the convention over the summer. But I just thought … [ ] … that might be sacred."
- He then says he was so angry he went to walk among the graves of fallen soldiers to collect his thoughts.
- He also goes on a long antidotal story about an event in Apr 2015, where both he and the congresswoman were at a dedication of a federal building in memory of two FBI agents killed in the line of duty and basically claimed she grandstanded there using the event to take unseemly credit for securing federal funding for the building. Said that none of them present went to the press and criticized, or even stood up to express how appalled they were. He misremembered and/or misrepresented what she said, there is video contradicting his version of events.
- And then he gave the first questions to reporters who are, or know someone who is, a member of a gold-star family.
Today/Oct 20: When reports push back at Sanders and say that Kelly either misremembered or misrepresented what the Congresswoman said in 2015 and requested clarification from him Sanders said "If you want to go after General Kelly, that is up to you. If you want to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general, I think that is something highly inappropriate".
The news media has also reported on condolence calls Trump gave to other gold-star families that left the family members feeling appreciative and not offended.
That was draining…. So, I am going to keep the commentary on that distastefulness above to two points:
- I feel sickened how the WH is using the military in multiple ways (reporters can't question the Chief of Staff now?)
- Some had found comfort over the high representation of the military in the WH, thinking their military discipline and apolitical-ness would save the U.S. from Trump's worst impulses…. I suspect that vision is shattered for some.
So, back to Niger, and what happened to Sgt. La David T. Johnson, Staff Sgt. Bryan Black, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson, and Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright, and why?
WaPo: Everything we know about the Niger attack that left 4 U.S. soldiers dead.
They were doing a route that the U.S. military took about weekly for the last six months. What changed that led them to being attacked by 50 militants and dying? Just happenstance?
I've heard one matter, not mentioned in the above article, that may have been a factor that lead to this: the Muslim Travel Ban.
Remember how the 3rd Version added Chad to the list? Which apparently confused everyone.
Chad, Niger's neighbour, is a very important military ally in the region, and apparently helps all their neighbours with militants (and has among the least amount of militants in their borders among their neighbours). The U.S. and France has regional military headquarters there. And after the Muslim Travel Ban 3 was issued, which was announced Sep 24th, Chad withdrew much of their military support back home from their neighbouring countries. It does sound from other news as if the militants got, well more militant, after Chad withdrew troops….
I do not pin all the responsibility on Trump, not remotely. The world is a complicated place. These militants have prime responsibility. It does appear that maybe the Trump Muslim Travel Ban version 3.0 was a factor in annoying an ally and isolating U.S. forces in the region, making them easier pickings for these militants.
Edited by sierraleone, 21 October 2017 - 01:35 PM.