The ongoing political instability in Niger presents a threat to U.S. counterterrorism operations as the ultimate outcome of a coup attempt could dictate the future of Washington’s involvement in the region.
U.S. officials have urged the rebel forces to release Niger’s President Mohamed Bazoum, with Vice President Kamala Harris stressing that Washington’s “substantial cooperation with the government of Niger is contingent on Niger’s continued commitment to democratic standards.”
Bazoum remains detained inside his palace in Niamey in the possession of presidential guards after they claimed to take control of the country on Wednesday.
Col. Maj. Amadou Abdramane, a spokesperson for the country’s security forces, said in a televised statement that the country’s constitution was suspended and Gen. Abdourahmane Tchiani was in charge, The Associated Press reported.
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Niger hosts hundreds of American Special Forces and logistics experts as well as U.S. drones — one of the few countries on the continent to do so, allowing the U.S. to fight against Boko Haram and ISIS affiliates.
As such, officials in Washington remain tight-lipped about what moves to make, but some, such as White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan, have called for Bazoum’s release.
“We specifically urge elements of the presidential guard to release President Bazoum from detention and refrain from violence,” Sullivan said in a statement. Sullivan noted that the White House has monitored the situation and will continue looking to keep U.S. citizens safe.
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France has 1,500 soldiers in the country who conduct joint operations with the Nigerians, and the U.S. and other European countries have helped train the nation’s troops.
Niger has also already attracted interest from Russia’s infamous mercenary group Wagner, which has targeted the country due to its rich uranium production.
Wagner already has communicated with neighboring Mali, who asked for help after ousting the French military, with many of them moving into Niger. Reports indicate that Wagner could soon arrive in Burkina Faso, too.
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Bazoum won Niger’s first democratic election, held in 2020 to 2021, but Tchiani argued that the country needed a new direction after potentially witnessing its “gradual and inevitable demise.”
“I ask the technical and financial partners who are friends of Niger to understand the specific situation of our country in order to provide it with all the support necessary to enable it to meet the challenges,” Tchiani said during a public address.
Tchiani’s group, calling themselves the National Council for the Safeguarding of the Country, closed the borders and accused prominent dignitaries of collaborating with foreign embassies to “extract” deposed leaders.
The U.S. State Department issued fresh alerts across the week following the start of political instability in Niger, which many have labeled a coup attempt, which would be the country’s fifth such attempt since gaining independence from France in 1960.
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Since the start of the coup attempt, the State Department has issued fresh alerts for Americans to “minimize movements” and to register with the embassy to continue receiving updates.
West Africa’s regional bloc, ECOWAS, called the incident a coup attempt and urged the “felon” soldiers to release Bazoum and return to their barracks. The national army also threatened to take action against the guards.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.