The State Department late Wednesday ordered the evacuation of all non-emergency personnel and their families from the U.S. Embassy in Niamey, the capital of Niger, amid an unfolding military coup and the possibility that war might erupt in the West African country.
For the Biden administration, it’s the latest in a string of withdrawals from conflict zones around the world, with the Niger evacuation coming after the rapid retreat of Americans from Afghanistan, Sudan and other nations in recent years.
In Niger, State Department officials said the evacuation is being conducted “out of an abundance of caution,” but they warned that any U.S. citizens who remain in the country will have limited options moving forward.
The U.S. move comes on the heels of similar evacuations ordered by France and other European nations.
“The Department of State has no higher priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens overseas, including U.S. government personnel serving abroad. Given ongoing developments in Niger and out of an abundance of caution, the Department of State is ordering the temporary departure of non-emergency U.S. government personnel and eligible family members from the U.S. Embassy in Niamey,” the State Department said in a statement. “Commercial flight options are limited. We updated our travel advisory to reflect this and informed U.S. citizens that we are only able to provide emergency assistance to U.S. citizens in Niger given our reduced personnel.”
“The U.S. Embassy remains open for limited, emergency services to U.S. citizens,” the statement said. “The State Department continually adjusts its posture at embassies and consulates throughout the world in line with its mission, the local security environment, and the health situation.”
The U.S. has more than 1,000 troops in Niger stationed at two key American drone bases. Despite the evacuation from Niamey, the Pentagon said there are no plans to send more troops to the country.
“There are no changes to the U.S. military force posture in Niger during the Department of State-led ordered departure,” Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said Thursday morning in a statement. “The Department of State has not requested DoD personnel or equipment as part of the ordered departure. We continue to monitor this fluid and evolving situation and reiterate our focus on a diplomatic solution.”
The apparent military coup last month ousted Nigerien President Mohamed Bazoum, who has been placed under house arrest.
Until recently, Niger had been one of the continent’s few bona fide democracies. In April 2021, the country marked its first peaceful transfer of power from former President Mahamadou Issoufou to Mr. Bazoum. That period of democracy was the first in Niger’s history, which had been marked by military rule and coups over the past several decades.
So far, the Biden administration has refused to officially label the situation in Niger a “coup,” with officials holding out hope that Mr. Bazoum will soon be restored to power.
Regional players appear willing to reinstate Mr. Bazoum’s government by force, raising the possibility that armed conflict might soon erupt.
The Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, last weekend demanded that the elected government be restored immediately.
“In the event the authority’s demands are not met within one week, (the bloc will) take all measures necessary to restore constitutional order in the Republic of Niger. Such measures may include the use of force,” the group said.
Complicating matters is the presence of Russian Wagner Group fighters inside the country. Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Russian mercenary outfit, has praised the military coup and has even offered assistance from his fighters to restore order in the country.
Pro-military demonstrators reportedly shouted “long live Russia” and other pro-Moscow slogans on the streets of the Nigerien capital this week, underscoring the support that Russia seems to enjoy in the country.