President Donald Trump drew laughs from some of his aides as he joked about what a “rough business” terrorism is while discussing an ambush in Niger that left four U.S. soldiers dead last year, according to a covert recording released Monday.
Trump made the comments during a closed-door meeting at the White House in the wake of the Oct. 4, 2017, attack on the U.S. special forces, who were advising local troops fighting Islamic extremists in the African nation.
Former White House communications aide Omarosa Manigault Newman secretly recorded the conversation and provided a tape of it to MSNBC on Monday afternoon.
The president can be heard on the tape telling his aides the U.S. and Nigerien troops “got attacked by 50 real fighters,” who he claimed were in Africa because the American military had chased them out of the Middle East.
“So it’s a rough business. I wouldn’t, I don’t think I’d want to be a terrorist right now,” Trump said, prompting guffaws from the staffers in the room. “It’s not a good life. … The reason they’re there is because we forced them out, and it’s not nearly as many, it’s not nearly as intense, but it’s pretty intense, you see that happening. So that’s that.”
Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who was present for the meeting, did not return a request for comment.
The ambush, which also left four Nigerien soldiers dead, has been shrouded in controversy since U.S. special forces in Africa are only supposed to advise and assist local troops from behind the front lines. The Pentagon has blamed the bloody ambush on “individual, organizational, and institutional failures,” but has yet to fault any particular individual or strategic decision.
During the private White House chat, Trump shed some light on what his views are on U.S. military involvement in Africa.
“You know, it’s a rough business,” he can be heard saying on the recording. “They’re rough too, they want to kill us. We’ve let the military do what they have to do. And whether you call it rules of engagement or any way you want to say it, but we’ve let them do.”
Trump infamously inflamed the ambush controversy further after he was accused of forgetting the name of one of the fallen soldiers while on a condolence call with his widow.
“I heard him stumbling on trying to remember my husband’s name, and that’s what hurt me the most, because if my husband is out here fighting for our country and he risked his life for our country, why can’t you remember his name?” Myeshia Johnson, the wife of late Army Sgt. La David Johnson, told ABC News weeks after his death.
Rep. Frederica Wilson, a Florida Democrat who was with Myeshia Johnson during the condolence call, also accused Trump of telling the widow that her husband “knew what he was getting into.” Trump denies ever making the comments.
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