US senators seek answers on US presence in Niger after ambush

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Myeshia Johnson, widow of U.S. Army Sergeant La David Johnson, who was among four special forces soldiers killed in Niger, sits with her daughter, Ah'Leeysa Johnson at a graveside service in Hollywood, Florida, on Saturday. (REUTERS)
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U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL) attends the graveside service for U.S. Army Sergeant La David Johnson, who was among four special forces soldiers killed in Niger, in Hollywood, Florida, on Saturday. (REUTERS)
Updated 23 October 2017
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US senators seek answers on US presence in Niger after ambush

WASHINGTON: US senators said on Sunday the White House has not been forthcoming with details about the military’s presence in Niger after the deaths of four soldiers there earlier this month and they want more answers on US operations in the west African country.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer said in separate interviews that they support Republican Senator John McCain’s effort to get answers from the Pentagon on the ambush and more broadly on the US fight against ISIS in Niger.
Graham and Schumer said they had been unaware of the large US presence in the country and said Congress needs more information on what could become a long and open-ended involvement.
“I didn’t know there was 1,000 troops in Niger,” Graham said on NBC’s Meet the Press. “This is an endless war without boundaries and no limitation on time and geography,” he added. “You’ve got to tell us more and he is right to say that.”
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told Graham and McCain, who serves as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, on Friday that the military is shifting its counter-terrorism strategy to focus more on Africa and expanding the ability to use force against suspected terrorists.
The attack earlier this month, which US officials suspect was carried out by a local Islamic State affiliate, has thrown a spotlight on the US counter-terrorism mission in Niger, which has about 800 US troops.
US President Donald Trump drew attention to the ambush after sparring last week with Democratic Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, who criticized the president for what she said were insensitive remarks to the widow of one of the fallen soldiers.
Democrat Schumer said on the same program on Sunday that he, like Graham, had also been unaware of the large presence of US troops in Niger and is also awaiting more answers from the military this week.
He said Congress may need to re-examine the current authorization for what he said could be a long, open-ended involvement in the country and region.
“We need to look at this carefully. This is a brave new world. There are no set battle plans,” he said, adding that Congress currently authorizes action as part of the authorization of military use that has been in place for 16 years since the September 11 terror attacks on the United States.
“I would be for re-examining this. There is no easy answer but we need to look at it. The answer we have now is not adequate,” he said.


South Sudan foes in new peace talks to end deadly war

Updated 25 June 2018
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South Sudan foes in new peace talks to end deadly war

  • A first round brokered by Ethiopian premier Abiy Ahmed in Addis Ababa on Thursday failed to achieve any breakthrough
  • The war has killed tens of thousands of people and driven about four million others from their homes

KHARTOUM: South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and arch-foe Riek Machar were set to hold a new round of peace talks Monday after a first meeting last week faltered.
Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir is hosting in Khartoum the second round of talks between the two bitter rivals, aimed at ending South Sudan’s four-and-a-half year brutal civil war.
A first round brokered by Ethiopian premier Abiy Ahmed in Addis Ababa on Thursday failed to achieve any breakthrough.
Regional East African leaders have launched new efforts to secure peace in South Sudan where warring factions face a looming deadline to avert UN sanctions.
The war has killed tens of thousands of people and driven about four million others from their homes.
It erupted after Kiir fell out with his then deputy Machar in December 2013, dashing the optimism that accompanied independence of South Sudan just two years earlier from Sudan.
“In this round of talks we are looking for a breakthrough to this thorny issue,” Sudanese Foreign Minister Al-Dierdiry Ahmed told reporters on Sunday.
Kiir and Machar’s meeting in Addis Ababa was their first face-to-face encounter in nearly two years.
Their meeting in Khartoum will be the first since fighting erupted in South Sudan.
It comes after South Sudan’s government declared that it “had enough” of Machar, dashing hopes of any breakthrough at the Addis Ababa talks.
“As the people of South Sudan, not the president alone, but as the people of South Sudan, we are saying enough is enough,” South Sudanese government spokesman Michael Makuei said Friday.
Makuei rejected Machar’s presence in any transitional government but did not rule out the involvement of other rebel figures.
His remarks show the personal enmity between Kiir and Machar, that lies at the heart of the conflict, is as strong as ever.
Before the start of talks in Ethiopia, Machar’s SPLM-IO rebel group had also dismissed the latest peace efforts as “unrealistic.”
South Sudan descended into civil war after Kiir accused Machar of plotting a coup against him, sparking violence between the two factions that was fueled by brooding ethnic tensions.
Since a 2015 peace deal collapsed in July 2016 with Machar fleeing to South Africa, Kiir’s government has gained the upper hand militarily as the opposition has splintered into a myriad of factions.
Initially largely fought out between South Sudan’s two largest ethnic groups — Kiir’s Dinka and Machar’s Nuer — smaller groups have since spawned their own militias raising question marks about the ability of either leader to halt the war.
In May, the UN Security Council gave the two warring sides a month to reach a peace deal or face sanctions.
A landlocked state with a large ethnic mix, South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011 after a long and brutal war.