The failure of the American “soft” plan in Niger months after French forces left the country

While France did not hesitate to condemn the military coup that took place in Niger in July 2023, the United States of America was counting on opening a dialogue with the new authorities. It hoped to influence the strategic choices that Niamey would follow on the one hand, and to preserve its military base located in the Agadez region on the other hand. However, just a few months after the French soldiers left the country, the time came for the American soldiers to leave.

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Conversations in Niamey She was constructive and “frank,” according to the United States. But a few days after the American delegation left, a regime spokesman announced Niger On March 16, the “military agreement” signed between the two countries was terminated “immediately.”

During a televised speech, Colonel Amadou Abderrahmane harshly criticized Washington, denouncing its “illegitimate military presence” in Niger Which was the result of an agreement that was “imposed” on the country, in his opinion. He also accused the Deputy Secretary of State for African Affairs in the US administration, Molly Fee, who headed the US mission to Niger, of “condescension,” criticizing at the same time “America’s will to strip the sovereign people of Niger of their right to choose their partners.”

Thousands of demonstrators gathered in Niamey on Friday near a military base housing French forces, to demand the departure of French soldiers, Niger, August 1, 2023.
Thousands of demonstrators gathered in Niamey on Friday, near a military base housing French forces, to demand the departure of French soldiers, Niger, August 1, 2023. © AFP

The announcement of the end of the military agreement between the two countries came after months of arduous talks between the new Niger authorities, which came to power on July 26, 2023 after a military coup that removed the president. Mohamed Bazoum From governance, and Washington. While the talks revolved around military partnership between the two sides and a return to the electoral track.

Washington made significant diplomatic efforts to prevent facing the same scenario experienced by France, which was forced to leave the country at the end of 2023. This made Washington choose a more conciliatory approach towards the military junta that has ruled the country since the military coup, hoping to reach an understanding with it, but to no avail.

Read alsoThe United States is evaluating its military options in Niger after France’s decision to withdraw

There was talk of a military coup

This difference in dealing with the Nigerian crisis initially emerged at the verbal level used by each country. For example, Paris “strongly” criticized the military coup that targeted the president Mohamed Bazoum She demanded “his immediate return to power.” On the other hand, Washington followed a different plan, describing the situation in… Niger on August 8, 2023, as “an attempt by the military to seize power.”

French embassy headquarters in Niamey, the capital of Niger, August 28, 2023.
French Embassy headquarters in Niamey, the capital of Niger, August 28, 2023. © AFP

The approach taken by the United States of America regarding the situation can be explained in: Niger The legal framework that regulates the aid provided by Washington to other countries. Meaning that the annual appropriations law allows the US State Department to reduce financial and logistical aid to any country in which a military coup occurred and “its president was overthrown or the head of its government came to power democratically.”

However, in recent years, Washington has granted Niger millions of dollars within the framework of development assistance programs and in order to strengthen the military partnership with it, considering it “a strong pillar in the field of combating terrorism in the region.”

For example, the United States launched a military base in the Agadez region in 2019, which is among the most prominent bases specialized in the field of intelligence and surveillance in the Sahel region. This base, which houses about 1,100 American soldiers and is reinforced with drones, cost $100 million.

Big transformation

Washington decided to open talks with the Nigerien authorities in a step aimed at returning the civilian government to power, but to no avail. While the American envoy, Victoria Nuland, who was quickly sent to… Niamey That the talks with the new authorities were “somewhat difficult.” The evidence is that she was not able to meet with the military commander, Colonel Abderrahmane Tiani, nor with the ousted president, Mohamed Bazoum.

General Abderrahmane Tiani, head of Niger's military junta, in the capital Niamey, Niger July 28, 2023.
General Abderrahmane Tiani, head of Niger’s military junta, in the capital Niamey, Niger July 28, 2023. © Reuters

On October 10, the United States escalated its tone and admitted for the first time that what had occurred in Niger was a “military coup,” while suspending most of the development and support programs for the country, including a program to assist and train Nigerien forces worth $500 million.

Read also“With immediate effect.”…Niger cancels the military cooperation agreement with the United States, describing it as “unfair.”

But despite this change in strategy, Washington did not want to end the partnership with Niger, and no party announced the possibility of American forces leaving this country.

In December, after a visit by Molly Fee, Deputy Secretary of State for African Affairs in the US administration, the United States announced that it wanted to resume the security and economic partnership with this country on the condition that it take a series of measures that would allow the return of democracy.

American intervention

During his speech on March 16, Colonel Amadou Abderrahmane reaffirmed the “strong will of the transitional government” to organize “as soon as possible elections in order to return to the constitutional path.” But at the same time, neither the ECOWAS countries nor the United States were able to impose any calendar or date for organizing these elections.

In addition to Washington’s efforts to preserve the military base in Agadez, it also tried to put pressure on Niger not to follow suit. Financial Which received on its territory fighters from the Russian paramilitary group “Wagner”.

Washington also did not look with positive eyes at the rapprochement that took place between Mali and Burkina Faso on the one hand, and the end of the security agreements between Niger and the European Union on the other hand.

In this regard, a researcher specializing in Nigerien affairs said without revealing his identity: “The military rulers supported the American position, which had called for giving preference to peaceful dialogue rather than military intervention by the countries of the Economic Community of West African States. But it seems that Washington did not understand well that Niamey, Bamako and Ouagadougou were rejecting any interference in their affairs or taking sides.”

Screen capture from France 24

Screen capture from France 24 © France 24

For his part, the official spokesman for the ruling military junta in Niger denied the existence of any agreement with Iran to sell uranium, describing Molly’s statements as “false.” On the other hand, he defended the partnership with Russia and considered it “a partnership between one country and another in order to obtain military equipment to fight “Terrorism.”

An unbalanced military agreement

Amadou Abderrahmane criticized the “unfair” and “illegitimate” security agreement linking the two countries (Niger and the United States). According to the researcher specializing in Nigerien affairs who we spoke to, “The military in Niger were not satisfied with sending 1,100 soldiers to the American military base nor with American intelligence support.”

But at the same time, the departure of American forces is not without risks because Niamey could expose itself to political, economic and military training sanctions from the United States, knowing that the “Ercol C-130” helicopters used by the Nigerian army are a gift from Washington. .

David Resch

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