Report Reveals U.S. Government’s ‘Secret Wars’ Worldwide, Some Even Hidden from Congress

US secret wars
US Army Africa from Vicenza, Italy, CC BY 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

Last August, we all watched as the last American troops left Afghanistan after 20 years of the forever war on terrorism. Suppose you were to ask the everyday American citizen where American troops are fighting wars today.

In that case, you have a fair shot of being told, “nowhere.”

Suppose you asked those citizens where American soldiers have fought wars in the last 20 years. In that case, you’d probably get the answer, “Afghanistan and Iraq.” Likewise, you would probably get the same answer if you asked the bulk of Congressional leaders.

They ought to know. After all, it’s Congress that has the responsibility to declare war and oversee military activities.

However, those answers would be wrong; we’ve been sending American soldiers worldwide to fight without the public – and sometimes even Congress – knowing about it.

We Let Them Do It

Katherine Yon Ebright of the Brennan Center’s Liberty and National Security Program authored a report last week highlighting the expansiveness of these “secret wars” we’ve been fighting over the previous two decades. Her research is based on an analysis of actions taken by our government after the attacks on September 11th, 2001.

First and foremost to understand how this is happening: the 2001 Authorization for the use of Military Force (AUMF). For those unfamiliar, this is the document that “authorized” the War on Terror.

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Then there is the covert action statute that gives the authority for secret CIA-led operations that can also include the use of force, which in and of itself probably spells trouble.

But additionally, three critical statutes enable “secret wars”:

  • U.S.C. 333 – allows the Department of Defense to train and equip foreign forces anywhere in the world.
  • U.S.C. 127e – allows the Department of Defense to provide “support” for foreign forces, paramilitaries, and private individuals who are “supporting” U.S. counterterrorism operations.
  • Section 1202 of the 2018 NDAA – allows the Department of Defense to support U.S. irregular warfare operations against “rogue states” like Iran, North Korea, Russia, and China.

That last one is fascinating, given the current situation in eastern Europe. So why does any of this matter?

Has Anyone Read The Constitution?

The Constitution gives Congress and Congress alone the power to declare war. 

According to the Constitution, Congress is also responsible for the governance of the military. There is an important reason why Congress and civilians run the military: so we don’t turn into a militarized state.

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But in reality, the government has essentially cut Congress out of the equation and, thus, more importantly, the public who provides the young men and women who go on these “secret wars.”

As Ms. Ebright notes in her report:

“The Department of Defense provides congressionally mandated disclosures and updates to only a small number of legislative offices. Sometimes, it altogether fails to comply with reporting requirements, leaving members of Congress uninformed about when, where, and against whom the military uses forces.”

Note to the people who regularly claim “democracy” is “at stake”: this is actual democracy at stake.

If you think she’s exaggerating, reference to 2017 when Congress and the American public were shocked to hear that we had American troops in Niger. How did we find out? American troops were killed in Niger, fighting a “secret war.”


There are numerous examples of these military overreach operations, but perhaps the best example lies within Africa. A former D.O.D. official told Ms. Ebright for her report:

“We’re not at war in Africa, but our partner forces are.”

What does he mean? Let’s look at Somalia. 

In Somalia, the government created two proxy forces, the Danab Brigade and the Puntland Security Force. In 2002 the Puntland Security Force fought the Islamic State in Somalia, known as I.S.S. 

Fast forward ten years to 2012 and the Puntland Security Force gets transferred to U.S. military control, where they stayed for ten more years to fight alongside American special operations forces.

Here’s the problem with how this whole thing played out: I.S.S. was never officially associated with ISIS, which would’ve been covered under the AUMF.

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So our D.O.D. built and trained a foreign force in Somalia to fight a group not covered under the authorization set out in 2001. However, because the phrasing in the other statutes and codes is vague and overly flexible, this sort of activity was able to persist.

One Wrong Move

I’m a veteran, and I’ve been all around this world and seen all sorts of things that would shock you. And, if I’m being honest, support the need for covert activities in many ways. However, I also know the dangers of an unchecked military force; I’ve been deployed to enough countries that found themselves at the mercy of a military-led government. 

Democratic Congresswoman Sara Jacobs from California has a good point:

“The Brennan Center’s Report underscores the need to shine a light on our defense activities that have been cloaked in secrecy for too long. At the bare minimum, the public and Congress need to know where and why we’re sending our service members into harm’s way.”

Yes and no. The bare minimum would be following the Constitution, but point taken.

The danger associated with how our military operates in this secret space is underscored by Ms. Ebright when she states:

“The conduct of undisclosed hostilities in unreported countries contravenes our constitutional design. It invites military escalation that is unforeseeable to the public, to Congress, and even to the diplomats charged with managing U.S. foreign relations.”

Perhaps it is interesting to note that the Biden administration is allegedly attempting to convince Ukraine and Russia to come to a negotiated peace. Some argue it’s because of waning support for and unending war.

I wonder if, in addition to that, they know the workaround is to continue the war… in secret. After all, we allow for it in Section 1202 of the 2018 NDAA.

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USAF Retired, Bronze Star recipient, outspoken veteran advocate. Hot mess mom to two monsters and wife to equal parts... More about Kathleen J. Anderson

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