The Pentagon on Tuesday suspended security cooperation with Niger’s military following last week’s ouster of the country’s democratically-elected president, a coup that has already prompted several European countries to begin evacuating their citizens.
In a region where Islamist terror group have become increasingly active in recent years, the U.S. has about 1,100 troops in the country, mostly at a military base in the northern city of Agadez. Pentagon officials said the troops are being kept at the base as officials in Washington monitor the situation in Niger.
“None of the U.S. forces have been pulled out. They are all still there,” Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters. “We’re closely monitoring the situation. It continues to remain very fluid.”
Niger, a former French colony, had been a rare democratic success story in the region, with incumbent President Mohamed Bazoum taking office in a peaceful transfer of power in 2021. But the head of the president military security detail staged the coup, accusing the government of lacking the will to deal with the country’s mounting security challenges.
On Sunday, pro-coup protesters attacked France’s embassy in the capital, Niamey, while the military on Monday arrested several officials of the Bazoum government as well as the head of the ruling party. The violence prompted officials in Paris to announce the evacuation of French citizens and any Europeans who want to leave.
“The closure of the air space has left our compatriots unable to leave the country by their own means,” France’s Foreign Ministry said Tuesday in a statement. “The evacuation will begin today.”
Gen. Ryder said the U.S. is encouraging any U.S. citizens in Niger to keep in close contact with the American Embassy. “All indications right now are that there’s no imminent threat against any U.S. personnel or American citizens,” he said.
Niger under Mr. Bazoum had been seen as a reliable partner to the West in the fight against jihadists in Africa’s Sahel region. The U.S., France and other European countries have helped train the country’s armed forces.
Prime Minister Mahamoudou Mahamadou, on travel in Europe when the coup was staged, told the Associated Press from France Tuesday that Niger should be considered a linchpin for supporting democracy in the region against the spread of terrorism.
“It’s a catastrophe because Niger is a fragile country. It’s already a country where nearly 4 million people live in food insecurity,” Mr. Mahamadou said. “It’s a country with 300,000 refugees and as many internally displaced people.”
While the Biden administration had yet to formally characterize the ouster as a “coup,” Mr. Mahamadou said it comes soon after similar events in Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea since 2020. A formal coup declaration by law would force Mr. Biden to shut down security and aid programs with Niger, a move officials say would undercut American leverage in the crisis.
Mr. Mahamadou told the AP that he remains in contact with Niger’s president who is in “good spirits” and “ready to face the situation.”
The West African regional body known as ECOWAS announced travel and economic sanctions against Niger on Sunday and said it could use force if coup leaders don’t reinstate Mr. Bazoum within one week, the news service reported.
U.N. special envoy for West Africa and the Sahel Leonardo Santos Simao told reporters Tuesday he expects ECOWAS to go ahead with the deployment of troops to Niger if Mr. Bazoum isn’t restored to power, but held out hope more bloodshed could be avoided.
But military junta governments in neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso have already come out in support of the coup leaders in Niger and warned outside powers of trying to intervene.
— This article was based in part on wire service reports.