WASHINGTON: The United States has assessed that a July takeover in Niger was a military coup d’etat, senior administration officials said on Tuesday (Oct 10), after it became clear the junta did not want to abide by constitutional guidelines to restore civilian and democratic rule.
Despite designating it a coup, the United States at this time has no plans to change its troop posture in the country, a senior official said. Niger has been a key partner for Washington’s fight against Islamist insurgents who have killed thousands of people and displaced millions more.
“We’re taking this action because over the last two months, we’ve exhausted all available avenues to preserve constitutional order in Niger,” a second senior official said.
The United States has been pressing for a diplomatic resolution of the crisis that erupted on Jul 26 when Niger military officers seized power, deposed President Mohamed Bazoum and placed him under house arrest.
The official said Washington had urged the junta to abide by the constitution, which in the view of the United States stipulated a “transition government dealing with a national emergency would have to restore civilian and democratic rule within 90-120 days”.
“As time has passed, it’s become clear that the CNSP officials that we’ve been dealing with did not want to abide by these constitutional guidelines and, in fact, they’ve told us that they’ve chosen to repeal that constitution,” the official said, referring to the National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland.
The formal designation of a coup limits what assistance Washington can provide the country. Despite a decision not having been made yet on designating it a coup, Washington in August paused certain foreign assistance programs that benefit the government of Niger but said it would continue giving humanitarian and food assistance.
The junta has been informed of Washington’s need to suspend certain assistance, the official said, adding that the United States will maintain humanitarian and health assistance that benefits the people of Niger.
Over the past decade, US troops have trained Nigerien forces in counterterrorism and operated two military bases, including one that conducts drone missions against Islamic State and an Al Qaeda affiliate in the region.
One official said that counterterrorism operations in Niger will remain paused in the interim and activities to build the capacity of Niger’s armed forces will be suspended.
“This coup assessment demonstrates that we cannot continue business as usual in Niger,” the official said.
The Pentagon in September repositioned some troops and equipment within Niger and withdrew a small number of non-essential personnel.
There are now about 1,000 Department of Defense personnel in the country, one official said. Before the movement, there were 1,100 troops.
While there are no plans at this time to change posture, the Pentagon will continue to evaluate any next steps on presence in the country based on the security environment, force protection and counterterrorism interests, among other factors.
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