With little more than a note to Congress, President Obama announced Friday morning that he has ordered the deployment of approximately 100 armed US soldiers to the west African country of Niger.
According to the Associated Press, Obama's letter stated that the mission would be to conduct "intelligence sharing" with French troops stationed in the neighboring country of Mali who have joined that country's army in a fight with Toureg fighters in the north.
As AP notes:
The U.S. and Niger signed an agreement last month spelling out legal protections and obligations of Americans who might operate from the African nation. But U.S. officials declined at the time to discuss specific plans for a military presence in Niger.
The announcement of "boots on the ground" in Niger comes just weeks after reports surfaced that the US was in negotiations to establish an airbase in the country so that a portion of its drone fleet could operate in the region.
Events in Mali that led to the current violence followed on the US/NATO intervention in Libya in 2011. The cumulative effect, however, has been a growing chorus of western officials who say that west Africa is now the new front on the "war on terror" and the increased military presence, from Libya, then Mali, and now Niger, suggests that the buildup in the region is just beginning.
In the era of executive authority—almost entirely enabled by the annually renewed Authorization for Use of Military Force enacted after the events of 9/11—the question remains, at what point will Congress reassert its right to control declarations of war and at what point will the US public begin to question a "war on terror" that can deploy US soldiers in a foreign nation with the quick delivery of a simple presidential note?