A closer look at the deadly Niger ambush

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report with Bret Baier," October 20, 2017. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Calls for more information on the Niger ambush as you take a look at a map there. We are getting more and more details about what happened in that ambush. And U.S. special forces, U.S. troops involved, four Americans died two weeks ago now. And AFRICOM that runs that part of the world for the put out a statement today why the U.S. military is there, provides training, security assistance to Nigerian armed forces, including support for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance to facilitate their efforts to target extremist organizations in the region. Violent extremist groups based in northern Mali and across the Sahel exploits porous borders, have reliable access to weapons and enjoy relative freedom of movement that enables their attacks. These terrorists pose a threat to the citizens of Niger and other African nations, and also to U.S. personnel and U.S. interest in Africa. One lawmaker says it's only going to be more expensive there.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, R-S.C.: The next 9/11 may come from Niger. The war is headed to Africa. It's beginning to morph. As we suppress the enemy in the Mideast, they are going to move. They are not going to quit.


BAIER: So let's start there, busy week on this topic. Let's bring in our panel: Byron York, chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner; Erin McPike, White House correspondent for the Independent Journal Review, and David Catanese, senior politics writer for U.S. News and World Report. Byron, the calls continue obviously from Capitol Hill, and there are multiple investigations ongoing.

BYRON YORK, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: Exactly. There is a couple of big issues here. One is what happened on October 4th. We are finding a little more but we really don't know very much, and I think the military doesn't know exactly what happened, and it's going to take some time to reconstruct that. So we do have to wait a little bit for that.

The other thing, though, is what is our mission in Niger? Why did we send 150 American troops over there in 2013, President Obama did? Why has that grown to nearly 800? What are we doing? And I think that's something the government could be explaining right now. And I think they should definitely do that until they find out specifically what happened.

BAIER: I mean, there has been some explanation along the way about what we're were doing there. It's important to point out that we have 180,000 U.S. military personnel in 140 different countries. Here is President Trump on terrorism in Africa September 20th.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: In the Central African Republic, the Congo, Libya, Mali, Somalia, and South Sudan, among others, they are going through some very, very tough and very dangerous times. Terrorist groups such as ISIS, al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, and Al Qaeda also threaten African peace. The U.S. is proud to work with you to eradicate terrorist safe havens.


BAIER: So basically we are trying to prevent terrorists from getting a foothold.

ERIN MCPIKE, INDEPENDENT JOURNAL REVIEW: That's right. But the thing I think we need to point out is that there are ISIS training camps scattered throughout northern Africa. And Lindsey Graham said today that this is spreading into Africa -- it's already there. And that's why you see these U.S. forces have to spread throughout the continent to help local forces. In that statement that you read from, that is a two page long statement explaining why it is that U.S. forces are there. And they make clear and say at the end that they are there to assist local sources, advise them, and train them.

BAIER: David?

DAVID CATANESE, U.S. NEWS AND WORLD REPORT: We don't have all the facts yet, but the reporting is moving faster than the facts. And there is some disturbing reporting out here tonight. The "Los Angeles Times" is out there saying that the military requested extra, you know, more backup surveillance drones to help protect these guys when they are moving in, and that it was rejected locally. There is also some reporting tonight that the rescue mission was not conducted by military but by private contractors. Again, this hasn't been confirmed, but this is starting to leak out in different news organizations. One other news organization tonight is quoting a senior Congressional staffer, calling it a massive intelligence failure, and they are comparing it to the crisis in Benghazi. So I think there is going to be a lot of legwork done about this in the coming days.

BAIER: Sure. Special Forces do a lot of stuff in the world. They are in dangerous positions, and this is a wide-open area that is a vast swath of territory. And obviously there are a lot of extenuating circumstances to Benghazi that dealt with how the government dealt with things along the way.

This also comes among the controversy about this condolence call and it's another day of this coverage. Take a listen to the White House today.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: As General Kelly pointed out, if you are able to make a sacred act like honoring American people all about yourself, you are an empty barrel. If you don't understand that reference, I will put it a little more simply. As we say in the south, "all hat, no cattle."

REP. FREDERICA WILSON, D-FLA.: I do not appreciate somebody lying on me. If you lie on me, I'm going to answer, because I'm not going to let you get away with it. That's not the way I teach my boys, and that's the way I live my life. Don't lie on me.


BAIER: Byron?

YORK: I think today's issue is a lot small than yesterday when General Kelly delivered this really very, very impressive performance, educating a lot of the country about military values. Now there seems to be a fight about Kelly's credibility. I'm going to steal something from Mollie Hemingway who said, no, Representative Wilson did not brag in an unseemly fashion about funding the building. She bragged in an unseemly fashion about naming the building. I don't think this was a huge mistake on Kelly's part, and in no way overshadows the message and the power of his message yesterday.

BAIER: Erin?

MCPIKE: One other thing I would want to add here is that I've had a number of Congressmen say this week we are not talking about how ISIS is on the run because of the liberation of Raqqa. But I think this entire story shows they might be on the run, but they are running to other areas, and so all of these missions are really important. And they continue to be.

BAIER: Last word?

CATANESE: I think Kelly's credibly take a credibility hit today. I watched the nine minute video. The congresswoman never states anything about funding in the nine minute video that he referred to specifically yesterday.

BAIER: Sarah Huckabee Sanders says she talked --

CATANESE: That's a change of the story.

BAIER: Understood. But maybe it's -- as far as Kelly's credibility on the issue talking -- you are saying that the charge --

CATANESE: There isn't evidence of what he's accusing her of. I watched the nine minute video today. She's talking about how everybody came together to move this FBI facility forward. She credits Republicans for it. So I don't know where he got that from. I think he misremembered it, and I think the White House should have owned up to that.

His performance yesterday was admirable. But I think it muddied the waters making that specific accusation against this congresswoman which really is an unnecessary fight for them to have.

BAIER: Last word?

YORK: It is an unnecessary fight. And the problem is, it is up to the media also to make decisions here. I heard one report today show said that the developments of Niger were overshadowed by this controversy, over Kelly's remarks. Why were they? That's an editorial judgment. I personally think the issues in Niger are really important. To elaborate on what you said, we are definitely heading for congressional hearings about something like this, and that is a bigger story.

CATANESE: I agree.

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