The United States has warned the Niger junta that it may be pushed to intervene militarily if the country’s military rulers do not return to constitutional order.
US acting Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland made the warning during a visit to Niger on Wednesday. She said that the US understands its legal responsibilities to protect its citizens and interests in Niger, and that it would not hesitate to use force if necessary.
“We have made it very clear to the junta that we expect them to return to constitutional order,” Nuland said. “If they do not, we may be pushed to that point.”
The junta seized power in a coup on February 24, ousting President Mohamed Bazoum. The coup leaders have promised to hold elections within 12 months, but the US and other international partners have expressed skepticism.
The closure of Nigerien airspace following the coup has also disrupted the US military’s drone program in the country. The US has been using Nigerien Air Base 201 to launch drone strikes against suspected terrorists in the region. However, the base has been closed since the coup, and it is unclear when it will reopen.
The disruption of the US drone program in Niger is a significant blow to the US fight against terrorism in the region. The drones have been instrumental in killing high-level al-Qaeda and ISIS leaders.
The US is now considering alternative ways to conduct drone strikes in Niger, such as launching them from neighboring countries. However, this would be more difficult and expensive.
The US is also trying to persuade the junta to reopen Nigerien airspace so that the drone program can resume. However, the junta has so far refused to do so.
The US is now in a difficult position in Niger. It wants to pressure the junta to return to constitutional order, but it also does not want to alienate the military, which is essential to the fight against terrorism in the region.
The US is likely to continue to monitor the situation in Niger closely and to work with regional partners to find a solution that is acceptable to all sides.
In the meantime, the disruption of the US drone program in Niger is a major setback in the fight against terrorism in the region.
ECOWAS Threatens Military Intervention in Niger
Meanwhile, West Africa’s defense chiefs were wrapping up a meeting in Nigeria’s capital Abuja on Thursday where they discussed the possibility of a military intervention if diplomatic efforts fail to reinstate Niger’s ousted president, Mohamed Bazoum.
The Economic Community of West African States, the regional bloc known as ECOWAS, threatened the use of force if coup leaders don’t restore Bazoum to power by Sunday.
ECOWAS has struggled to contain a democratic backslide in West Africa and had vowed that coups will no longer be tolerated after military takeovers in member states Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea in the last two years.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has threatened to intervene militarily in Niger if the country’s military rulers do not step down.
The bloc has made similar threats before and carried through on them. In 2017, ECOWAS sent troops into The Gambia when long-term ruler Yahya Jammeh refused to step down after losing elections. Jammeh quickly agreed to step down after the threat of military intervention.
ECOWAS also has a stabilization force in Guinea-Bissau where it redeployed some 600 troops following an attempted coup in February 2022.
An intervention in Niger would rely heavily on Nigeria, which has the largest army in the region. Senegal has also said that it would participate in any military intervention.
However, several other ECOWAS member states have already stated that they would not support the use of force in Niger.
One of the challenges to a military intervention in Niger is that the country’s army is experienced fighting jihadists and trained by the United States and France. This means that it would be a much more difficult fight than the intervention in The Gambia.
Another challenge is the issue of Mali and Burkina Faso. Both countries have military governments which came to power in coups, and both are suspended from ECOWAS decision making bodies as a result. In a joint statement, both countries warned that any military intervention against Niger’s coup leaders would be considered a “declaration of war” against their nations.
The situation in Niger is complex and there is no easy solution. ECOWAS will need to weigh the risks and rewards of a military intervention before making a decision.