US attempts to preserve its military footprint in Niger

April 20, 2024 by No Comments

The United States is attempting to create a new military agreement with Niger that would allow it to remain in the country, weeks after the junta said its presence was no longer justified, two Western officials told Friday.The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the situation, said Washington was actively working on options for a revised deal aimed at retaining its foothold in the nation.Niger plays a central role in the U.S. military’s operations in Africa’s Sahel region, Washington is concerned about the spread of jihadist violence where local groups have pledged allegiance to al-Qaida and the Islamic State groups. Niger is home to a major U.S. airbase, in the city of Agadez, some 550 miles from the capital Niamey, using it for manned and unmanned surveillance flights and other operations. The U.S. has also invested hundreds of millions of dollars in training Niger’s military since it began operations there in 2013.But relations have frayed between Niger and Western countries since mutinous soldiers ousted the country’s democratically elected president in July. Niger’s junta has since told French forces to leave and turned instead to Russia for security. Earlier this month, Russian military trainers arrived to reinforce the country’s air defenses and with Russian equipment to train Nigeriens to use.The decision to revise the agreement was seen by one of the officials in an internal cable for State Department officials. It didn’t outline what the terms would be and it’s still unclear if the junta will be receptive to them.In October, Washington officially designated the military takeover as a coup, which triggered U.S. laws restricting the military support and aid that it can provide to Niger. In March, a U.S. delegation traveled to Niger to hold discussions at senior levels to explore whether it was possible to achieve an agreement respecting the concerns of both sides, said a official.”We are in touch with the transition authorities and are discussing next steps. The (junta) has made it clear that they want a different model for what U.S. military cooperation with Niger looks like going forward. What that cooperation is, is still under discussion,” said the official.The revised agreement would aim at finding a formula that addressed respective interests and concerns, as maintaining a U.S. presence in the country is essential to ensure the safety of the troops, said one of the officials. What’s at stake is more than counterterrorism operations, said the official. Without a U.S. troop presence it will become harder to protect and evacuate military and diplomatic staff in the region if there were any type of escalation.The wisest policy is for the United States to disengage, but it’s complicated because of the extensive military and intelligence infrastructure the U.S. has invested in the country, said Hannah Rae Armstrong, a senior consultant on Sahel peace and security.”It puts the U.S. in a very bad position because it’s hard to walk away from,” she said. If the U.S. stays, it should find a new mode of engagement that departs from the failed counterterror cooperation model of the past decade, and continues to press other states in the Sahel region on accountability and human rights abuses, she said.Insa Garba Saidou, a local activist who assists Niger’s military rulers with their communications, couldn’t confirm that Niger was revising its military agreement but said there had been long discussions with the U.S. and that Niger was open to working with other countries.”The people of Niger and their interests must be preserved and I think this is logical, he said. “The relations between the two states must be fair and the two countries must respect each other.”