Taza Khabre

The US declares the military takeover in Niger a coup d’état

On Tuesday, the Biden administration officially acknowledged what most countries said months ago: that the military takeover in Niger in July was a coup.

Administration officials sidestepped the declaration for weeks because the word “coup” has deep political implications. Congress mandated that the United States must freeze all economic and military aid to any government deemed to have been installed by military coup until democracy is restored.

But on Tuesday, the administration said efforts to restore Niger’s democratically elected government to power had failed and aid that had not already been restricted would be cut.

“The United States has determined that a military coup has taken place in Niger,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said in a statement. He added that nearly $200 million in aid that was temporarily suspended in August would be suspended. About $442 million in aid to trade and agriculture will also be suspended.

Humanitarian, food and health aid would continue, Mr. Miller said, noting that resuming other US aid would require the junta “to introduce democratic governance in a swift and credible time frame.”

What is important is what else will not change. The new United States Ambassador to Niger, Kathleen A. FitzGibbon, will remain at the US Embassy in Niamey, Niger’s capital. About 1,000 American soldiers will remain in the country at two bases. And while U.S. counterterrorism training in Niger is suspended, the Pentagon will continue to fly surveillance drones to protect U.S. troops and alert authorities if a terrorist threat is detected.

France began withdrawing its first troops from Niger on Tuesday, weeks after President Emmanuel Macron said he was withdrawing his ambassador and would order the return of 1,500 troops stationed in the country.

France’s decision follows weeks of escalating tensions between France and Niger’s new military leaders, who seized power in a coup in July. It also capped years of waning influence for France, a former colonizer in West Africa whose economic presence and military power in the region remain significant despite a growing challenge from the junta and foreign powers such as Russia.

In Washington, the Biden administration held out dwindling hopes that the military junta would reverse its takeover and agree to restore a democratically elected government.

Last month, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken met with leaders of several nations that are members of the Economic Community of West African States, a regional group that has been pressuring Niger’s military leadership to relinquish power under threat of military intervention. The Biden administration has tried to avoid a conflict that could spread throughout the region.

In a description of the meeting, the State Department said the participants were “unified in their view that the National Council for the Protection of the Homeland in Niger” – the country’s ruling military junta – “must release President Mohamed Bazoum, his family and all those who are unlawfully detained.”

Mr. Bazoum and his family have been detained since he was ousted in July.

After the coup, most Western countries suspended their aid and security partnership with Niger, whose leader was seen as one of the last reliable allies in a region now dominated by men in uniform.

As Western countries have recalled troops training Nigerian soldiers in recent weeks, the future of Western engagement in the sub-Saharan Sahel region – the global epicenter of jihadist activity – remains uncertain.

Niger is a key transit country on the migrant route to Europe, and the European Union has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years to buffer its northern areas with migrant centers and repatriation flights.

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