The Biden administration may be on the cusp of dragging the United States into yet another foreign conflict.
As all eyes shift from Ukraine to Israel, the US State Department is expected to announce in the coming week that it is officially designating the seizure of power in Niger by the country’s military a coup d’etat, CNN reported on Friday, citing three US officials.
As a vital US counter-terrorism partner in the region, such an announcement could have dire implications for America’s ability to work with Niger. Approximately 1,000 US forces are stationed in the country, and officials said the Pentagon is still assessing how the announcement will impact them.
The US officials noted that the US Embassy will be able to continue its operations and, as the US military will still legally be able to keep forces in Niger despite the designation of a coup, it is unlikely US forces will withdraw completely. CNN says some will “probably stay in a more limited intelligence gathering role.”
“As we continue our diplomatic engagements to preserve civilian rule in Niger we are continuing to assess additional next steps but have nothing to preview at this time,” said a State Department spokesperson.
Niger’s democratically elected president, Mohamed Bazoum, was overthrown by the country’s military leaders in July.
Though some US allies have already referred to the action as a coup, the U.S. has thus far been reluctant to officially do so. Such a legal designation would require the Biden administration to “restrict certain forms of foreign aid to Niger,” CNN reports, “most notably, security assistance funding for Nigerien forces.”
The US military had hoped to avoid cutting off funding and support for the Nigerian military with a coup designation.
The US has worked to support Nigerien forces for a decade to bolster their fight against terrorists in Africa’s Sahel region, and the US has several bases inside Niger from where it conducts counterterrorism operations.
According to the US Embassy in Niamey, since 2012, the Pentagon and State Department “have provided Niger more than $350 million in military assistance equipment and training programs – one of the largest security assistance and training programs in sub-Saharan Africa.”
If a country’s “duly elected” leader is overthrown by his/her country’s military, training and equipping funds appropriated by Congress are required to be restricted, per US law.
“There has been frustration in Congress with the administration’s lack of communication with the Hill, and the administration’s slow decision-making process,” said one person familiar with the discussions.
While in Djibouti last week, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin confirmed that the US has “not resumed any operations with the Nigerien forces” since the military took over, but said the US continues to have “essentially the same footprint in Niger” as it did prior to the ousting of Bazoum.
France, meanwhile, announced last week that, by the end of the year, all of its troops would be out of the country.
According to BBC Africa senior journalist Nkechi Onyinyechi Ogbonna, Niger’s economy is already taking a hit.
“Niger cuts its budget by 40% over the impact of sanctions and suspension of aid after the 26 July coup,” she reported on X. “There are fears that the sanctions may worsen the economic situation in Niger – one of the world’s poorest countries.”
Niger cuts its budget by 40% over the impact of sanctions and suspension of aid after the 26 July coup. There are fears that the sanctions may worsen the economic situation in Niger – one of the world’s poorest countries.https://t.co/LO0JJHZKhC @BBCAfrica
— Nkechi Onyinyechi Ogbonna (@nkechinna) October 9, 2023
With respect to the US military aid for the country, “The Secretary of State could issue a waiver to reinstate the military aid once a coup is determined, but only if he decides that it is in the national security interest of the United States and consults with Congress first, according to the Congressional Research Service,” CNN reports. “Congress for the first-time last year incorporated the waiver into its 2023 omnibus spending bill.”
“Senior Pentagon officials believe that keeping a presence in Niger is vital to efforts to tackle terrorism in the region and believe that it’s feasible even amid the domestic political turmoil there,” the outlet states. “Several of the junta leaders have worked with and been trained by the US as part of the US’ security cooperation with the country, current and former officials told CNN, and Nigerien military leaders have not voiced anti-American sentiment or asked the US to leave.”