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Indiana Congressman On The Attack In Niger That Killed 4 U.S. Soldiers


And for more now on Niger we turn to Representative Jim Banks. He's a Republican from Indiana, and he's on the Armed Services Committee as well. Congressman Banks, thanks for joining us today.

JIM BANKS: Good to be with you.

SIEGEL: You've been briefed on the news conference that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs gave, General Dunford. Did he answer the questions that you had about what happened in Niger?

BANKS: Well, he certainly hasn't answered the questions yet. But he's asking the right questions. And his commitment to answering those questions to both the families of those who lost a loved one and to the American people and as well as Congress - he laid out the right questions that should be answered. So as a member of the Armed Services Committee, we will eagerly await whatever their conclusions are of the investigations and the internal discussions and questions that the general laid out a little bit ago.

SIEGEL: And from your vantage point as a member of the Armed Services Committee, what for you is the most important as yet unanswered question that you'd like to see answered?

BANKS: Well, at the end of the day, as far as I'm concerned, the emphasis on our activities in Niger and our - overall our strategy toward defeating ISIS is what matters most. And that's why many of us are using this situation as well as others as a - again, an opportunity to raise the question and the importance of reauthorization of military force, a new AUMF that should be passed by the Congress that would authorize our activities in Niger and throughout Africa and other parts of the world to combat the threat of ISIS. So I believe that General Dunford is - as he calls more attention to the situation, he understands the emphasis and importance of that as well.

SIEGEL: There have been claims of an intelligence failure in Niger behind what happened, that in fact there have been 46 attacks in this part of west Niger documented by the U.N. over the past couple of years. It should have been assumed that this particular group of U.S. forces were likely to be attacked. Are you concerned about that?

BANKS: I don't know if likely is the right word. But in Indiana, our Indiana National Guard is the state partner with the Nigerien military. So we send Indiana guardsmen and women to Niger. They send their military leaders to Indiana for training. So it's no secret - it hasn't been a secret to me that - of what is occurring in Niger with the threat of ISIS and other cells of terrorist groups as well. So I don't believe that that's been a secret. But as far as any intelligence failures, those should be the questions and issues that should be fleshed out in an investigation by General Dunford and others at the Pentagon to provide more details to the families and to the Congress, as would be the responsible thing to do.

SIEGEL: General Dunford said that as of now, at least, there's nothing to suggest to him that Army Special Forces had taken too many risks in this case in Niger. Do you agree with him?

BANKS: Well, it's hard to answer that question until we know more. And that's why I commend General Dunford in laying out a series of questions that should be answered, that are expected to be answered by the Pentagon. The Congress deserves to know more. The American people deserve to know more. The families deserve to know more of what happened.

But really, at the end of the day, as a new member of Congress, as a member of the Armed Services Committee, it's disappointing - and as someone who's served in Afghanistan, by the way - it's disappointing to see this situation politicized. At the end of the day, it's the interest - it's in all of our best interests that we defeat ISIS and wherever they may be. But that calls into question, again, the importance of reauthorizing military force, a new AUMF.

SIEGEL: And just very briefly on that score, should a new authorization specify which countries are places where U.S. forces are operating? Or would a region, Africa, suffice? Just - we have a couple of seconds. What would you say?

BANKS: Well, at the very least, ISIS should be named in an AUMF. When the AUMF was passed in 2001 and 2002, ISIS didn't even exist. And that's why the Congress should elevate the role that Congress plays, pass a new AUMF. And this situation emphasizes the importance of that.

SIEGEL: Congressman Jim Banks, Republican of Indiana, thanks for talking with us.

BANKS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.