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Mattis tells senators US will expand counterterrorism operations in Africa

US Defense Secretary James Mattis (L), and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Joseph Dunford (R), speak with Senator John McCain as they arrive to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee, on October 3, 2017. (AFP photo)

US Defense Secretary James Mattis has told lawmakers in Congress that the American military is shifting its counterterrorism strategy in Africa and will expand military operations in the continent.

Mattis told two senior members of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Friday that the Pentagon will expand the ability to use lethal force against suspected terrorists in Africa and place decision-making authority in the hands of US commanders in the field.

Senator Lindsey Graham, a member of the committee, told reporters that the Pentagon chief outlined the new rules of engagement during back-to-back briefings for him and Senator John McCain, chairman of the panel, The Washington Post reported.

“The war is morphing,” Graham said. “You’re going to see more actions in Africa, not less; you’re going to see more aggression by the United States toward our enemies, not less; you’re going to have decisions being made not in the White House but out in the field.”

Graham said that other changes to the Pentagon’s counterterrorism policy would include using lethal force against a suspected member of a terrorist group even if that person does not pose an immediate threat.

The changes come as lawmakers are pressing the Trump administration for details about what led to the ambush in Niger on October 4 in which four US Special Operations forces were killed.

The American troops were supposedly on an advisory and training mission in the African country, along with 40 Nigerien troops, when they were killed.

Senator John McCain, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told reporters on Thursday that he might subpoena the Pentagon for answers.

The questions have come up because the US and Nigerien troops on the patrol have given conflicting accounts about whether they were simply ambushed or were attacked after trying to chase suspected Daesh (ISIL) terrorists operating in West Africa.

US military officials said Friday the Defense Department was trying to determine whether the US troops diverted from their routine patrol to embark on an unapproved mission.

The episode has engulfed the White House in crisis. US President Donald Trump has come under fire for not making a statement on the attack for nearly two weeks.

During a press conference on October 17, Trump told reporters that he wrote letters to the families of the victims, but falsely accused his predecessors of not or rarely calling the families of deceased soldiers.

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