US military presence in Niger in question following coup

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The United States has 1 100 personnel in Niger and their presence there has come into question following last month’s coup.

The US has a large unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), or drone, base in the country from which it carries out missions against Islamic State and Al Qaeda affiliates in the region. It has also trained Nigerien forces in counterterror operations. In October 2017, four US soldiers were killed near the Nigerien village of Tongo Tongo after being attacked by more than 100 ISIS fighters.

Reuters reports that Niger’s new junta has revoked military cooperation agreements with France, which has 1 000-1 500 troops in the country, but not with the US.

“Our drone base in Niger is extremely important in countering terrorism in the region,” a US official told Reuters. “If that closed down, it would be a huge blow.”

“With a limited U.S. base presence in Africa – restricted to Djibouti and Niger – losing access to Base Aerienne 201 [Niger Air Base 201] would be a detrimental blow to US and African joint efforts to counter violent extremist groups connected to the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda operating in the area,” Jocelyn Trainer, an expert on sub-Saharan Africa with the Center for a New American Security think tank in Washington, DC, told Task & Purpose.

“This setback coincides with France diminishing its presence in the region. A reduced US and French presence could create space for Wagner, or other actors, to fill a security vacuum.”

Although the US has not officially called the military takeover a coup, it has paused some foreign assistance projects for the country, including military education and training programmes. (If the takeover is formally designated a coup, the US cannot legally provide military and other assistance to Niger.)

Limited UAV operations continue from Air Base 201 near Agadez, which was built at a cost of $110 million and used since 2019 to combat terrorism in the region.

The US may have to reevaluate its role in Niger after ECOWAS meets today to decide if it will undertake a military intervention in Niger after the junta refused to reinstate ousted President Mohamed Bazoum. Reuters added the situation could become more complex if Niger asks Wagner for help – Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin welcomed the coup in Niger and said his forces were available to restore order. Wagner is already operating in Mali and the Central African Republic.

The Pentagon this week said the 1 100 US military members in Niger will stay put for now as negotiations continue to end the ‘attempted coup’.

15-Day Timeline: Since Niger coup d’état, key events

It has been at least 15-days since the Niger coup d’état. High-ranking United States Biden administration officials have had several calls with ousted President Mohamed Bazoum, Niger’s neighbour, Nigeria’s President Bola Tinubu, African Union (AU) Commission Chairperson, and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), as well as supporters of the coup plotters, Burkina Faso and Mali have announced various measures, and declared their positions on the issue.

Here are just some of the significant events, in the last 2-weeks, since the coup in Niamey:

When? What Happened
16 March 2023 US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken’s official visit to Niger. On 16 March, Secretary Blinken met President Mohamed Bazoum and Foreign Minister Hassoumi Massaoudou in Niamey. He discussed ways to advance the US-Niger partnership on diplomacy, democracy, development, and defense. Secretary Blinken also engaged youths from Niger’s conflict zones, who have completed the Disarmament, Demobilization, Reintegration, and Reconciliation (DDRR) programme, to learn about their contributions to peace in Niger.
26 July 2023 President Mohamed Bazoum announced on ‘X,’ (previously known as Twitter), that his presidential guard had attempted a coup d’état.
Colonel Major Ameddou, Abdramane, Niger Army Spokesperson, delivers televised message citing reasons for coup d’état: Due to “…deteriorating security situation, poor economic and social governance.”
26 July 2023 Televised announcement: Niger’s borders closed. All institutions in the country suspended.
27 July 2023 US Vice President Kamala Harris’s Call with Nigeria’s President Bola Tinubu: “The Vice President and President Tinubu underscored their shared commitment to defending democracy in West Africa and the Sahel and deep concern about the attempted takeover in Niger. “
27 July 2023 Gatherings in Niger’s capital city, Niamey, by coup supporters.
General Abdourahamane Tiani, Head of Niger’s presidential guard said via televised message, that the coup leaders consider President Mohamed Bazoum and his government ousted.
28 July 2023 Televised message to the country, announces General Abdourahamane Tiani has been declared as the Head of State.
30 July 2023 Coup supporters in Niger attack Embassy of France in Niamey and destroy the French flag.
30 July 2023 Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is led by Nigeria. ECOWAS President, Omar Touray, announces that ECOWAS will take all necessary measures, including the use of force, to return the country to Constitutional order. Issues a 7-day final warning to CNSP and Niger’s coup leaders to free ousted President Mohamed Bazoum, restore constitutional order, or risk a military intervention.
01 August 2023 Neighbouring countries: Mali and Burkina Faso’s junta threw their support behind the coup leaders in Niger—both Mali and Burkina Faso experienced a coup d’état in 2022.
01 August 2023 Secretary Blinken had a call with the African Union (AU)’s Commission Chairperson, Moussa Faki Mahamat. In a published press statement, the U.S. did not yet classify the coup event as a coup d’état. It has so far, termed it “concerning developments.” Nuland told journalists on Monday, “We understand our legal responsibilities.” US government officials may be constrained by America’s domestic law: Section 7008, of the US Department of State’s Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act which would be set in motion if a “duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup d’état or decree in which the military played a decisive role in the ousting of a duly elected head of government.” Not only would the State Department be constrained in being able to help a country when a coup d’état has happened, but the US Department of Defense (DoD), may also be restricted by some legal statutes. Regardless, American policy advisors and their legal counsel would need to evaluate the Niger context.
04 August 2023 Secretary Blinken paused some foreign assistance to Niger.
06 August 2023 Televised announcement that Niger’s airspace is now closed and that CNSP is aware of the pre-deployment of troops in two central African countries.
06 August 2023 The ECOWAS 7-day ultimatum lapses.
07 August 2023 Air France suspends all flights to and from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso and Bamako, Mali through 11 August, following Niger’s coup leaders’ shutting down airspace, the day before, on Sunday 6 August.
07 August 2023 • U.S. Department of State’s Ambassador, Acting Deputy Secretary of State, and Under Secretary for Political Affairs, Victoria Nuland, travelled to Niger and met with some of the coup d’état leaders, in the country’s capital, Niamey.
• Coup plotters deny the Nuland delegation access to President Bazoum: “Before we arrived and throughout the day,” Nuland asked to see President Mohamed Bazoum, in-person “for some gestures of health and welfare. The request was denied. “We’ve talked to him on the phone, but we haven’t seen him,” she explained to journalists. Also, we “were not granted an opportunity to see the self-proclaimed president, Mr. Tiani. So, we were left to have to depend on Mr. Barmou to make clear, again, what is at stake…So, a difficult mission, but a necessary one from the perspective of American interest in trying to see if this very difficult situation can be solved diplomatically,” Nuland said.
• With regard to the Russian quasi-military company, the Wagner Group, Nuland said, “I got the sense in my meetings today that the people who have taken this action here understand very well the risks to their sovereignty when Wagner is invited in,” adding that “I would not say that we learned much more about their thinking on that front.”
• The US proposal to the Niger’s junta: U.S. wants to keep “an open door to continue talking,” said Nuland. She explained that the goal for the coup leaders is to “hear our offer to try to work with them to solve this diplomatically and return the constitutionally order…Their ideas do not comport with the Constitution. And that would be difficult in terms of our relationship if that’s the path they take, but we gave them a number of options to keep talking and we hope they take us up on that.”
07 August 2023 African Union (AU), Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and United Nations (UN) delegation led by former Nigerian President and General Abdulsalam Abubakar request to meet with coup plotters, in Niamey, is refused by CNSP.

 

Pearl Matibe is a Washington, DC-based foreign correspondent and media commentator with expertise on U.S. foreign policy and international security. You may follow her on Twitter: @PearlMatibe