US troops in Niger have been restricted to the American military bases and US embassy in Niger, as the Biden administration works to restore democratically-elected President Mohamed Bazoum to power.
A US military official said the approximately 1,000 troops were “retrograded” back to base last week, shortly after Bazoum was seized by members of the presidential guard on Wednesday. Another US official confirmed the troops are restricted to the bases and the embassy, but said all of the forces were already at their respective stations when the attempted coup occurred.
The US has not yet formally decided if the situation constitutes a coup – a designation that would require the US to cut foreign and military assistance to the Nigerien government, which could have serious consequences for the fight against terrorism and stability in the region. There is no timeframe in which the US is required to make a coup designation.
“We’re working really, really hard to see if we can turn this around,” said a senior State Department official on Monday. “Since the situation is not yet set and concrete, we think we should try and take that opportunity.”
On Thursday, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley spoke with his counterpart in Niger.
“The two leaders discussed the safety of Americans and the developing situation in Niger,” Col. Dave Butler said in a statement Monday.
US officials continue to stress that the situation is incredibly fluid, and that their focus is on diplomatic efforts, along with regional partners, to restore democratic rule in Niger.
The US overall force posture in the country has not changed, as that would require a separate policy decision. But the Pentagon is engaging in “strategic patience as we monitor the situation and see how it resolves itself,” the military official said.
The US has had troops in Niger for around a decade, mostly advising and training Nigerien forces on counterterrorism efforts.
The senior State Department official said Monday that the situation on the ground is relatively calm.
“There’s really no unrest in the city or the country. It’s really all focused on the president’s residence,” where Bazoum is detained, the official said.
The US continues to perceive the takeover as stemming from an internal domestic dispute between Bazoum and the head of the presidential guard, Gen. Abdourahamane Tiani, who was appointed by the previous president and believed he was going to be dismissed.
In the days since, Nigerien forces have come out in support of the putschists, though the senior State Department official said that “in subsequent conversations with some key military leaders, they’ve told us that they did not object to what was taking place because they couldn’t figure out how to get the presidential guard to stand down without risk to the life of the President and his family, because the presidential guard had surrounded the president’s residence.”
The official said it does not appear that Tiani has been able to build consensus among the military on his actions, and that his decision to name himself as president “might have been a surprise to some of the other military leaders in country.”
“We don’t have an understanding that he is wildly popular,” the official said.
There are still no indications that groups like Wagner have played any role in the takeover or subsequent protests, but “of course, it is our expectation – you’ve already seen (Wagner founder and financier Yevgeny) Prigozhin speak – that they’ll try and take advantage of it,” the official said.
“I think the coup leaders will try and take advantage of the anti-French sentiment in the region,” they added.
While there have been public protests that appear to support the military takeover, the official said that the US believes the public would prefer a democratic government.
“It’s our expectation that generally speaking, the public would prefer to have their democratically-elected government and not suffer these consequences. But they may not feel free to speak about it,” the official said.
CORRECTION: This story has been corrected to reflect US troops in Niger were restricted to several American bases and the US embassy in the country, as well as updated to include additional reporting.