The political situation in Niger has become more challenging for United States forces following a coup in the West African nation. Ten days into the coup, operations at U.S. counterterrorism bases have been hampered due to flight restrictions and fuel shortages.
Unlike several European countries that have evacuated, the Biden administration has emphasized its commitment to remain in Niger, which is considered the United States’ primary counterterrorism outpost in a region south of the Sahara Desert known for instability.
The U.S. government is concerned that leaving Niger could lead to a surge in jihadist groups and greater influence from Russia’s Wagner mercenary group. Niger’s democratically elected President, Mohammed Bazoum, has urged international support to restore constitutional order, warning of potential Russian influence and Islamic extremism.
Some European governments have closed their embassies and evacuated citizens following the coup, but the U.S. Embassy remains open, with only nonessential staff and some family members sent home.
The U.S. has not formally labeled the military overthrow a coup and maintains hope for a return to civilian governance. Despite cutting military ties with France, Niger’s junta has not ruled out working with the U.S., The American government has suspended military cooperation but continues negotiating with the military junta on other matters.
President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have expressed support for President Bazoum and called for his release and the restoration of democracy.
The U.S. stance in Niger contrasts with its responses to other recent international crises and hostile overthrows, particularly evident in Sudan. In April, when conflict broke out between two opposing generals in Sudan, U.S. diplomats, and military personnel were among the initial foreign entities to halt operations and leave the country.
Both France and the U.S. have threatened to cut aid unless the junta steps down, but the traditional U.S. sanctions response is considered riskier given the current landscape. Some analysts suggest that the U.S. may consider retaining security ties with Niger in exchange for promising a transition back to democracy.
U.S. personnel continue to operate in Niger, engaged in counter-terror operations and community support. However, the coup has altered everyday military operations, with increased restrictions and warnings related to refueling and air travel. The situation stresses the significant investment the U.S. has made in training Nigerien forces and the importance of the region, particularly with extremist attacks on the rise in West Africa.
The coup also raises concerns about Russia’s Wagner Group mercenaries, known for their brutal tactics and resource extraction, potentially gaining more regional influence. The outcome in Niger could have far-reaching implications for U.S. security forces’ regional partnership and the fight against jihadist groups.