Budget Cuts to Blame for Soldiers' Deaths in Niger, McCain Says

(Bloomberg) -- Senator John McCain, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said spending cuts imposed by Congress are responsible for the deaths of four U.S. soldiers this month in an ambush in Niger.

“It’s the fault of the Congress,” the Arizona Republican said after a classified briefing on the attack. “And us cutting defense spending. It’s what it’s all about.”

Lawmakers have questioned whether the troops that were ambushed had adequate support and whether there’s been sufficient congressional review as the Trump administration backs more aggressive rules of engagement in Africa and in the broader fight against terrorist groups globally.

McCain said leaders of U.S. military operations in Africa don’t have sufficient resources to do the job. "Our military leaders have said we’ve put the men and women in uniform in greater danger,” he said. “So, we did, and they did. It’s disgraceful."

The U.S. has about 800 troops operating in Niger. The circumstance of the ambush are under investigation by the Defense Department. Marine General Joseph Dunford Jr. said on Monday that the initial assessment is that the Americans were killed by a group affiliated with Islamic State and that the patrol, which was accompanying local forces, didn’t seek additional support until about an hour after coming under attack.

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