Rachel Maddow goes out on a limb with ambush conspiracy theory

Last Thursday, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow devoted a segment to putting forth a new theory about what led to the deaths of four U.S. military personnel in Niger earlier this month. According to Maddow, Trump’s decision to add neighboring Chad to his travel ban led to Chad’s decision to pull troops out of Niger. Days later U.S. troops were ambushed by 50 members of ISIS. Maddow never quite says the ambush was Trump’s fault but with all the dramatic pauses, she definitely left the impression it was reasonable to assume a connection:

Soon after this aired people with expertise in the region began saying the theory was bunk.

HuffPost published a map showing that the pullout of troops happened almost 750 miles away from where the ambush took place. Laura Seay, an assistant professor who teaches African politics at Colby College, also pointed out at Slate that different groups of militants were involved:

Maddow’s speculation, which mirrors a conspiracy theory pushed by the Palmer Report, a fringe website, might be tempting to believe, but it makes several key errors. First, there is simply no evidence that the withdrawal of Chadian forces from Niger had anything to do with the ambush. Examining the basic geography of the crisis makes this clear. Chad’s involvement in Niger was limited to the fight against Boko Haram, a Nigeria-based extremist movement that terrorizes civilians in northwest Nigeria, southeast Niger, southern Chad, and northern Cameroon. The Chadians were deployed to the Diffa region, where they fought effectively against Boko Haram and restored a semblance of stability to communities the extremists had terrorized. Their withdrawal has upset communities in the Diffa region, who (rightly) believe that their own government’s forces are incapable of protecting them from a renewed Boko Haram threat.

As you can see from this map, Diffa is on the opposite side of Niger from Tongo Tongo, where the ambush occurred. Nigerian forces and their American advisers in this region of Niger were not dealing with Boko Haram but instead were working to protect communities from other extremist groups that are active in the region where Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso meet. One of these groups, the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, is suspected of perpetrating the Niger attack.

But Friday evening Maddow doubled down on her theory. From a follow-up piece at HuffPost:

“Over the course of the day today lots of people have been very upset with me for reporting that last night, which is fine. I didn’t know you cared,” Maddow said in her Friday segment.“

But the upset over my reporting doesn’t mean that anything I reported wasn’t true. Everything I reported was true.”…

The MSNBC host on Friday also briefly attempted to hedge her speculation, before adamantly reinforcing her theory once again.

“Now, this doesn’t mean that Chad withdrawing their troops was necessarily the cause of what happened to those U.S. troops who were ambushed,” Maddow said.

But Laura Seay, the assistant professor mentioned above, tweeted that in addition to the implied connection between events Maddow had said something that wasn’t true:

So it appears that Maddow is way out on a limb here and trying to retreat to the position that she didn’t actually say there was a connection. But everyone could see she was implying the two events were connected though there’s no evidence to support that. We’ll have to wait until tonight to see if she addresses this again.

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Jazz Shaw 5:31 PM on December 01, 2022