1,100 US troops in Niger to remain for the time being, Pentagon says
Stars and Stripes August 9, 2023
American service members deployed to Niger will stay there for now amid diplomatic efforts to restore the democratically elected president to power in the West African country, the Pentagon has decided.
Hundreds of U.S. troops are assigned to Base 201, a $100 million drone site in Agadez, in central Niger. In addition, Army personnel routinely carry out training elsewhere in the country, which is being ruled by a military junta following a reported coup July 26.
In all, about 1,100 U.S. service members are in Niger. Continued U.S. military presence there is a powerful signal to the people, Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh said at a news conference Tuesday.
“The fact that our force posture has not changed sends a message that we're committed to the region, we're committed to Niger,” Singh said. “If something does happen that needs to adjust, we will adjust, but right now that is where we stand.”
The U.S. has paused some security cooperation efforts and isn’t conducting military training, she said. But Singh added that the halt is temporary and that the DOD will continue to engage militarily with Niger as negotiations to end the “attempted coup” continue.
Her word choice in describing the ouster of President Mohamed Bazoum was notable because U.S. law restricts the provision of military and other assistance if a coup is formally designated.
Such a determination would deal a significant blow to American efforts to counter Islamic militants in the Sahel region of West Africa, as the U.S. could be forced to abandon the drone site and sever ties with Niger’s military.
On Monday, a senior State Department official gave a sobering assessment of that possibility in recapping talks with Brig. Gen. Moussa Salaou Barmou and three other junta representatives. The discussions were described as frank and difficult.
“It was not easy to get traction there,” acting Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland told reporters. “They are quite firm in their view on how they want to proceed, and it does not comport with the constitution of Niger.”
Barmou was told of the potential risks if the junta continues in its present direction, Nuland said, adding that he is in a position to understand the impact after years of working with U.S. Special Forces.
American officials are hopeful that the nearly 30-year relationship with Barmou, which included his attendance at National Defense University in Washington, will help restore democracy, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.
During the more than two-hour meeting, junta leaders didn’t reveal much about their thinking regarding the Russian military group Wagner. But they appeared to be aware of the threat to Niger’s sovereignty that use of mercenaries posed, she said.
Nuland’s comments followed reports on Sunday that the junta had asked Wagner for assistance.
Singh downplayed those reports, saying that the U.S. had seen no indication that Wagner is involved in events in Niger or that Wagner forces are helping the junta.