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Strategic Setback: Niger Terminates Defense Agreement with United States

Published March 17, 2024
2 months ago

In a move that could significantly affect U.S. military operations in the Sahel region of Africa, the government of Niger has suspended its military cooperation agreement with the United States with immediate effect. Colonel Amadou Abdramane, a spokesperson for Niger's ruling military government, announced this decision on Saturday, which follows earlier developments resulting in the departure of thousands of French soldiers from the West African nation.

This suspension is a considerable blow to the strategic ambitions of the United States in Africa, particularly in the Sahel region where it has been heavily invested in counterterrorism efforts. Niger has been central to these operations, with the U.S. military personnel and civilian defense staff operating from various bases, including a major drone base in the city of Agadez.

The disengagement stems from discontent with the conduct of a U.S. delegation led by Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Molly Phee and the head of US Africa Command General Michael Langley, that visited Niger earlier in the week. Colonel Abdramane accused the American delegation of failing to follow diplomatic protocols, including not informing Niger about the delegation's composition, arrival date, or agenda.

With approximately 650 U.S. military personnel in Niger as of December, as reported by the White House to Congress, the stakes are high. The Agadez base, constructed at over $100 million, has been pivotal since 2018 for missions targeting ISIL and al-Qaeda affiliates in the region. The base's significance extends beyond counterterrorism to the broader projection of U.S. military power in competition with global players like Russia and China.

Niger has publicly refuted allegations from the visiting U.S. officials of clandestine partnerships with Russia and Iran, firmly denouncing what it perceives as a patronizing and combative approach from the U.S. delegation. This deterioration in relations comes after Niger underwent a military coup in July 2023 with General Abdourahamane Tchiani ousting President Mohamed Bazoum.

While the U.S. officially designated the coup as such last October, there was a willingness expressed in December to resume aid and security ties conditional upon Niger meeting certain prerequisites. Despite this, the present scenario indicates a significant divergence in the path ahead for U.S.-Niger relations.

Officials from the United States have asserted that 'frank discussions' were held in Niamey regarding the trajectory of Nigerโ€™s current military junta. The U.S. is reportedly maintaining communications with Niger's military council and is expected to provide updates as the situation unfolds.

This development reaffirms the evolving geopolitical dynamics in the region, with Mali and Burkina Faso also having dismissed French and European forces and seeking alliances elsewhere, including Russia. With this strategic pivot by Niger, the implications for regional and global security remain uncertain, and the future of U.S. influence in West Africa hangs in the balance.

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