- Like its predecessor, the Trump administration is sending US troops on missions around the globe to combat violent extremists.
- But Trump’s Defence Department has become much more secretive about where it’s putting troops in harm’s way, a move that obscures the many battles US forces are fighting under the broad authority of the 2001 military force authorization.
- The comprehensive Costs of War report shows the sheer scope of the counter-terror fight in 2017 and 2018, with US forces fighting in 14 countries, launching air and drone attacks in 7, and running counter-terror training in 65.
- The breadth of the US’s war started to become more clear in late 2017, when four US soldiers were killed in Niger – a country where even lawmakers were unaware that troops were deployed.
- The Pentagon has decided to limit information previously provided to the public, saying this will protect troops and to leave adversaries in the dark. That also has the effect of limiting the public’s understanding of the many conflicts the US is now engaged in.
In October 2017, during a routine patrol with Nigerien trainees, US forces were ambushed by about 40 enemy combatants, a deadly attack that was captured by gruesome helmet camera footage later released by the militants.
The attack sent shockwaves through the US. Not only had four Americans died, but they were ambushed by an unexpected enemy on what was labelled a routine patrol in a country that many US citizens and even lawmakers didn’t know their soldiers were in.
In the aftermath of 9/11, Congress handed unsupervised scrutiny of its armed forces to the executive branch, enabling presidents to employ troops almost anywhere, anytime, under any guise – as long as the mission fell under an umbrella of counter-terrorism.
As of October 2017, a Cost of War analysis conducted by Brown University estimated US troops were involved in 76 countries. By January 2019, the number had increased to 80.
In the last two years, their analysis shows that US troops have been in combat in 14 countries, that US drones and planes have launched strikes in seven countries and that US forces have run counter-terrorism training in 65 missions. In the secretive war on terror, the Defence Department has used the label counter-terror training to describe its mission in Niger, where US commandos were participating in raids and patrols against militants.
Trump’s Pentagon has made it increasingly difficult to know about where US troops are employed and the kinds of missions they are on. In response to queries, Department of Defence spokespeople will not confirm external reports.
“Due to operational security, we do not provide information on personnel on temporary duty, or deployed in support of contingency operations,” said DoD spokeswoman Jessica Maxwell in an emailed statement to Business Insider.
As of January 2019, the US is involved in counter-terrorism activities in 80 countries, ranging from training foreign troops to launching strikes.
Although the ‘global war on terror’ has expanded dramatically since its declaration, the majority of counter-terrorism missions still occur in the Asia-Pacific region.
Based on Brown University’s data, US forces are involved in 30 countries across Asia.
In December, the US announced its impending withdrawal from Syria, but conflicting reports have only raised more questions as to when complete withdrawal will occur.
The announcement also leaves open-ended questions regarding the future of the US-backed Kurdish militias fighting ISIS, and the hundreds of ISIS prisoners in their custody.
In addition to uncertainties about the timeline for Trump’s pullout, it remains unclear if the US will continue airstrikes against ISIS or logistical and training support for the allies fighting ISIS on the ground.
Africa is another important front in the war against terror, and reports show US involvement continues to expand.
“We’ve done a lot of security cooperation in the Lake Chad region, and that area includes Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon. We’ve done some training in Somalia … and south of that,” Maj. Gen. Roger Cloutier, head of US Army Africa, told Military Times.
There are roughly 15 countries located south of Somalia.
The deadly attack in 2017 raised concerns about US operations in Africa, but since then presence and missions have only increased.
Troop presence in the Americas is mostly related to counter-drug and counter-terrorism.
The analysis also highlighted US presence in Trinidad & Tobago, which has fallen under increased scrutiny as a recruiting hub for the Islamic State.
Missions in Central and South America have also expanded, and now include Mexico and Paraguay.
In September 2018, US troops participated in an exercise hosted by Colombia, primarily a search-and-rescue training event.
In Europe, troops are engaged primarily in former Yugoslavia.
Their presence is a legacy of NATO’s Operation Allied Force bombing campaign against Yugoslavia in 1999.
US troops also help train European forces to counter a potential Russian threat throughout Europe.
Since 2017, it has become increasingly difficult to track down where US forces are located and what they are doing there.
As a policy, the Department of Defence does not confirm outside reports of US troops in a particular country or region.
Public affairs personnel will release spreadsheets that show how many troops were present in tax-exempt combat zones for a particular month, but that information is far from comprehensive, effectively shadowing the full extent of American involvement abroad.
Of the countries listed in this report, only 22 are listed by the IRS as a designated combat zone.
The rest of the countries, including Niger, do not fall inside of a designated combat zone and would therefore be left out of any such data.
Others, like Colombia, do appear in the DoD’s data but are not listed by the IRS. Inconsistencies and caveats – some of which are described by the IRS – make an exact overview difficult to determine.
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