The Biden administration on Tuesday formally declared that the military takeover in Niger was a coup – a determination that will keep a significant amount of US military and foreign assistance to the West African nation on hold.
The decision was made because “we’ve exhausted all available avenues to preserve constitutional order in Niger,” a senior administration official said Tuesday.
Niger – once a key partner to the US – saw a breakdown of democratic order in late July when military putschists seized power and placed President Mohamed Bazoum under house arrest.
In the months since, US and international partners have urged the military junta, which calls itself the National Council for Safeguarding the Homeland (CNSP), to restore democratic leadership, but those efforts have been rebuffed.
CNN first reported last week that the formal coup determination was expected.
As a result of Tuesday’s decision, the foreign assistance programs to the Nigerien government that were paused in August will remain suspended. In addition, $442 million in Millennium Challenge Corporation funding has been halted, the senior administration official said.
Humanitarian assistance will continue, the official added.
In addition, counterterrorism operations will remain paused, a second senior administration official said, as will US “activities to build the capacity of the Nigerien armed forces through security cooperation programs.” Other security cooperation that is not subject to restrictions because of the coup determination will also remain suspended until the coup leadership “takes action towards restoring democratic governance,” this official said.
However, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) operations out of Agedaz Air Base will continue “focused on force protection, monitoring for threats to our forces, including threats from violent extremist organizations,” another official said.
The second official noted that the US military presence in Niger had already been “consolidated” into two locations, and there are not plans at this time to change the force posture.
US Ambassador to Niger Kathleen FitzGibbon, who arrived in the country in August, will remain, the first official said. She has not presented her credentials “but she is engaging in informal discussions with CNSP leaders, mainly to protect our staff and our interests and to handle logistical issues,” they said.
“We’ve informed the CNSP already of our need to suspend certain assistance programs” due to the coup designation, the official said.
On Monday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Bazoum. The first official said they have no indication of when Bazoum might be released from house arrest, but indicated he may have to leave Niger.
In the weeks following July’s military takeover, there were some concerns that Russian mercenary groups like the Wagner Group would try to take advantage of the situation, particularly given their presence in neighboring Mali.
“I’m sure that they (the Wagner Group) would like to try and look for openings in Niger to see if they could take advantage,” the first official said Tuesday.
“So far, we have not seen any evidence that they have succeeded, and I think largely because the CNSP recognizes that there would be nothing positive that could result from their involvement,” they said.