At the end of White House Chief of Staff John Kelly’s moving briefing about the four American Special Forces soldiers killed in Niger earlier in October, he took questions. The first was, “Why are we in Niger?”
The question was too narrow; it isn’t only Niger. Tens of thousands of American troops are deployed in more than 150 countries, working with America’s local partners to help them become better soldiers and meet their own threats. We are on every continent except Antarctica. While we are unlikely to ever know precisely who killed the four soldiers, what is happening in Niger is happening in all the countries of the second tier of Africa — volatile and insecure countries of mixed Christian, Muslim and traditional indigenous religions. American soldiers are there to help governments more effectively control their own territory and borders, reducing the likelihood of transnational jihad.