President Trump on Wednesday said he did not personally authorize the mission in Niger in which four U.S. soldiers were killed, saying “my generals and my military” have decision-making authority.
Asked if he authorized the mission, Trump responded, “No, I didn’t, not specifically.”
“I have generals that are great generals,” he continued. “These are great fighters; these are warriors. I gave them authority to do what’s right so that we win. That’s the authority they have. I want to win. And we’re going to win.”
Trump made the comments to reporters on the White House south lawn as he left for Texas.
“My generals and my military, they have decision-making ability,” he added later. “As far as the incident that we’re talking about, I’ve been seeing it just like you’ve been seeing it. I’ve been getting reports. They have to meet the enemy and they meet them tough and that’s what happens.”
On Oct. 4, four Army Green Berets were killed when their group of 12 soldiers and 30 Nigerien troops were ambushed by 50 militants affiliated with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
Trump’s confirmation that he did not sign off on the mission comes after Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisOvernight Defense: Tillerson, Trump deny report of rift | Tillerson says he never considered resigning | Trump expresses ‘total confidence’ in secretary | Rubio asks Army to kick out West Point grad Rubio asks Army to kick out West Point grad with pro-communist posts Trump, honor Obama’s agreement to release Guantanamo detainee MORE refused to say whether the president had.
“I don’t discuss those kinds of things,” Mattis said Friday.
Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Monday the soldiers were on a reconnaissance mission. Such a mission would not likely require the president to sign off beforehand.
But reports surfaced Tuesday that the operation morphed into a kill-or-capture mission, which could have needed higher approval.
Asked Monday whether the mission changed during the operation, Dunford said that would be uncovered in the investigation.
Dunford also said the Pentagon notified the White House of the ambush when it found out a soldier had gone missing.
Trump often touts his loosening of the rules of engagement for the military as key to recent successes against ISIS. The Obama administration was often criticized for requiring high-level approval on too many missions, slowing down the military.
But Trump’s reliance on generals to make those decisions have also left him open to criticism that he passes the buck when something goes wrong.
After the January raid in Yemen that left one Navy SEAL dead, Trump appeared to pass blame to the generals, saying that “they lost” the SEAL.