Guest editorial: A welcome turn from politics to specifics
It's been three weeks now since four American soldiers lost their lives in a remote area of Niger, a part of Africa unfamiliar to many Americans.
For too much of that time, the discussion about their sacrifice has been dominated by politics and finger-pointing.
On Monday, the tone shifted, thankfully, back to a discussion of the four men whose final service to their country ended in a firefight some 50 miles from the capital city of Niamey.
On Oct. 4, 12 Special Operations troops were on their way back to the capital from an area near the village of Tongo Tongo when about 50 local fighters attacked.
An hour into the fight, the U.S. forces requested assistance, and an unmanned drone arrived within minutes. French jets arrived an hour later.
The bodies of three American soldiers and two wounded comrades were evacuated by the French, who have 4,000 soldiers in Niger fighting terrorists, according to the Pentagon on Monday. Five Nigeriens also died.
A fourth American soldier who died in the firefight had become separated from his comrades; his body was not recovered for two days.
These four men all had names, and for their deaths to have meaning, we must remember them.
The fallen were Staff Sgt. Bryan Black, 35, of Puyallup, Wash.; Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson, 39, of Springboro, Ohio; and Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright, 29, of Lyons, Ga. The fourth soldier was Sgt. La David Johnson, 25, of Miami Gardens, Fla.
These four join a long list of those who have sacrificed for our country in the long years since the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
The Pentagon lists 3,413 military personnel, and 13 civilians, who have been killed in action in our many wars since then.
Still, these four deaths are poised to play a special role in our national consciousness.
Already, members of Congress are expressing surprise that some 6,000 U.S. troops are in Africa, across 53 countries, though both the Trump and Obama administrations regularly notified Congress of our involvement there.
On Monday, Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, promised to find answers to many lingering questions about the incident.
American troops in Niger are there to train, advise and assist local forces and are to avoid missions unless the likelihood of combat is low.
How did this one turn so deadly? Had the mission changed? Or were they simply surprised? How did Sgt. Johnson get separated?
Dunford has promised answers to these questions.
Others remain, however.
What is the precise nature of our troops' involvement in Niger and elsewhere in Africa?
What are their goals?
Are they being met?
Should Congress be more fully involved in deciding where we send our troops?
Honoring these four deaths requires asking, and answering, all of these questions.
Dallas Morning News, Oct. 24