Originally published in allAfrica..
For two months after the coup in Niger in August 2023, the Biden administration refused to declare that a “coup” had taken place. They did this because using the word would activate U.S. laws requiring the cut off of all security cooperation, development assistance, and economic support.
They also hoped that they could make a deal with the junta to keep 1,100 U.S. troops at two bases in Niger and continue running counterterrorism operations throughout the Sahel using drones. They finally concluded that it would not be possible to reach an agreement with the junta and on, October 10, 2023, the Biden administration declared that a coup had taken place.
It is almost certain that the junta will respond by ending U.S. counterterrorism operations launched from its territory and will expel U.S. troops, just as it has expelled French troops. At least this is what officers of the U.S. Africa Command (Africom) think. According to General James Hecker, commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Africa, “the US is actively considering new host nations,” and “There are several locations I’ll say that we’re looking at, but nothing’s firmed up. We have talked to some countries about it.”
Africom operations in the Sahel depend on the use of sophisticated air bases in the immediate area for intelligence-gathering, surveillance, and support for Nigerian military operations. The United States spent $110 million modernizing the Nigerian air base at Agadez (where all U.S. military personnel have now been relocated) for these operations.
If the United States is forced to end operations at the base it modernized at Agadez and to withdraw U.S. troops from Niger, they may be able to relocate to another country. But it’s hard to see how the United States can continue to pursue its counterterrorism strategy in the Sahel without a base in the immediate area.
During his visit to Kenya on September 25, 2023, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin announced that Washington would “evaluate any future steps that would prioritize both our diplomatic and security goals” in the Sahel. The Biden administration now has to do more than just “evaluate” its military operations in the Sahel; it has to bring them to an end.