The US formally designated Niger’s military uprising a coup — a move that will halt counter-terrorism cooperation and $500 million in aid — while maintaining its largest military presence in Africa outside of Djibouti.
(Bloomberg) — The US formally designated Niger’s military uprising a coup — a move that will halt counter-terrorism cooperation and $500 million in aid — while maintaining its largest military presence in Africa outside of Djibouti.
The State Department announcement comes months after the overthrow of the country’s western-allied president in July, and stands in sharp contrast to ex-colonial power France, which has taken a much harder line against the junta. While the US said on Tuesday that it would keep more than 1,000 troops at two bases in Niger, France began pulling its soldiers out of the country this week.
Read More: Macron, in Reversal, Says French Soldiers Will Leave Niger
The US will also continue to fly drone missions, including to counter the terrorist threat in the region, which has exploded over the past decade, according to senior US administration officials. The coup denied the US, France and other allies a crucial partner and staging ground in the fight against Islamic extremists in West Africa’s Sahel region.
Like the other ex-French colonies that have experienced coups in recent years, Niger’s military leaders have cut ties with Paris. But the US has maintained lines of communication with the new junta, which will allow it to have some military influence in one of the world’s biggest jihadist hotspots.
“If the French are to be kicked out of the sandbox, nothing is to be gained by America gathering up its forces and going off with the French,” said J. Peter Pham, former US special envoy to the Sahel.
Tuesday’s announcement amounts to a conclusion by the Biden administration that President Mohamed Bazoum has little hope of being reinstated. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to Bazoum on Monday, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said, and his fate remains uncertain.
The resumption of the aid won’t happen until the military rulers put the country back on track toward democratic rule in a “quick and credible time frame,” Miller said. The US decision won’t affect the flow of humanitarian assistance to Niger.
“The United States also intends to continue to work with regional governments, including in Niger, to advance shared interests in West Africa,” he said.
West Africa has witnessed eight coups in the past three years, including in Niger’s neighbors Mali and Burkina Faso. French-allied leaders in Senegal, Cameroon and Ivory Coast are also at risk, said Pham.
Russia has exploited the rise in anti-French sentiment, deploying Wagner mercenaries to Mali after a mission in the Central African Republic that began in 2018.
“While France’s relations with its former allies Mali and Burkina Faso have deteriorated, the US has maintained a presence in those countries,” Moussa Mara, former prime minister of Mali, said by phone from the capital, Bamako. “The US has bigger stake in Niger — they have the drone base in Agadez and forces on the ground, which explains their softer approach.”
Niger is sub-Saharan Africa’s second-biggest uranium producer and the leading one for European electricity utilities. It also has an estimated 34 billion cubic meters of recoverable gas reserves, according to S&P Global Inc. The $14 billion economy is expected to grow 11.1% next year, compared with 4.1% in 2023, according to the International Monetary Fund.
–With assistance from Katarina Hoije.
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