The top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee is raising concerns over what he sees as “aggressive” military operations worldwide with little public explanation for the reasons why.
“Clearly (President Donald) Trump’s administration has opened the aperture on acceptable risk, and we’ve seen a marked increase in kinetic operations in a wide range of areas,” Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., told reporters at a media event Thursday.
“U.S. Central Command can bomb who it wants to bomb, and President Trump will go play golf.”
The comments came a day after Pentagon officials released a statement disputing a report in The Daily Beast that U.S. forces killed at least 10 civilians during a questionable military mission in Somalia. U.S. Africa Command insists only enemy combatants were killed in the fight.
It’s the latest controversy for the military in Africa, where four U.S. soldiers were killed in an ambush in Niger in October. Since then, lawmakers have raised questions about the growing military mission there and the amount of public oversight of those operations.
Smith said he also has concerns with military autonomy to increase in the number of airstrikes in Afghanistan and personnel in the Middle East, issues he said should have closer oversight from lawmakers and White House officials.
During the campaign last year, and in appearances since becoming commander in chief, Trump vowed to free military officials from what he called bureaucratic interference in a host of combat operations. Supporters have praised it as supporting service leaders, while critics have blasted the White House for ignoring its oversight responsibilities.
In an appearance on C-SPAN’s Newsmakers later on Thursday, Smith said he thinks the more aggressive posture has less to do with true strategic decisions and more to do with complaints about the previous administration.
“There was a widely held feeling that the administration of (former President Barack) Obama was too cautious, that they hesitated on a number of attacks,” he said. “And I think President Trump, wanting to do whatever the opposite of what President Obama has done, said, ‘You are free to attack when you think you should.’”
He called that approach troubling.
“To be clear: There are terrorist groups that threaten us. I don’t have any problem whatsoever hitting them before they hit us,” Smith said. “But there is a huge cost to doing so in too indiscriminate of a manner, where you start having civilian casualties and start having populations turn against us instead of the terrorist groups.”
Smith said he is not clear what happened in the Somalia mission and is willing to believe U.S. military commanders’ version of events while an investigation continues.
But, more broadly, he said he wants better justification for an increase in fighting, especially in places with smaller military footprints and less clear military missions.
“I think civilian oversight is really critical in a number of these missions, to make sure we are attacking at the appropriate time and in the appropriate place,” he said.