By: Micaela Burrow, Daily Caller News Foundation
West Africa is on the brink of armed conflict as a regional security bloc must decide whether to intervene against the junta leaders in Niger, at least one of whom previously trained under Department of Defense (DOD) programs.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a Nigeria-led economic and security group, set a Sunday ultimatum for the military officers who seized control of Niger in July to restore the ousted president under threat of force, according to Reuters. But the deadline passed without a change in Nigerien leadership, and the ruling elements of Niger’s security forces on Sunday announced pre-positioning of troops ahead of a possible ECOWAS invasion.
If launched, it would trigger the first conflict involving multiple countries on the continent in decades, according to Politico.
ECOWAS heads will discuss the matter Thursday.
“Niger’s armed forces and all our defense and security forces, backed by the unfailing support of our people, are ready to defend the integrity of our territory,” a junta representative said in a statement, according to Reuters.
West African leaders say they have spectated over too many coups in recent years and need to restore credibility, but breaks in the bloc have already formed, according to Reuters. Member states Mali and Burkina Faso, both run by U.S.-trained military officials who wrested power from their predecessors in the last two years, have pledged to come to Niger’s defense if needed.
Niger closed its airspace Sunday, warning of an attack from a foreign power, and promised to defend against invading forces, Reuters reported. In previous days it sent a delegation to Mali asking for spare Russian-affiliated Wagner mercenaries to join the fight in the event of a Western-backed intervention.
ECOWAS leaders over the weekend developed a war plans, adding that operational decisions would be left up to individual heads of state, Reuters reported. Nigerian president Bola Tinubu has asked the senate for authorization to take military action against Niger.
France, which has about 1,500 troops stationed in Niger, announced it would support ECOWAS operations on Saturday but did not specify the nature of that support, Politico reported. Niger, a former French colony, cut off military cooperation activities with France after the coup attempt.
But Nigeria, and the U.S., are banking on diplomatic options to resolve the crisis, media reports show. The U.S. government paused humanitarian and security assistance programs last week as uncertainty mounts and has signaled support for ECOWAS activities.
Niger had not requested U.S. forces pull out as of Monday, the Pentagon said, according to Politico.
U.S. troops continue to man bases and did not participate in the partial embassy evacuation ordered by the State Department, press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said at a briefing on Aug. 3.
“There’s no changes to the U.S. military force posture in Niger or policies at this time. Our forces there in Niger continue to cooperate daily with Nigerien forces to keep base operations and services functioning,” Ryder said, later adding that these are not elements of the Nigerian military that participated in the coup attempt.
The developments complicate what has been a years-long train-and-equip partnership between the U.S. and Niger to counter Islamist terrorist groups in the region.
One of the leaders of Nigerien forces that deposed the democratically-elected President Mohamed Bazoum on July 26 is Brig. Gen. Moussa Salaou Barmou, who heads the country’s Special Operations Forces, The Intercept reported. Barmou met with U.S. Army Special Operations Command commander Lt. Gen. Jonathan Braga in June to discuss joint security efforts, tweets show.
Barmou trained at Fort Benning, Georgia and studied at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C., The Intercept reported, citing Nigerien sources and a U.S. government official speaking on condition of anonymity.
“We have had a very long relationship with the United States,” Barmou said in 2021. “Being able to work together in this capacity is very good for Niger.”
The DOD did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.