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Thu, Aug 10, 2023 7:15 AM

West African States Consider Further Action Against Niger Coup Leaders

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West African States Consider Further Action Against Niger Coup Leaders
West African states are meeting to discuss the next steps regarding the coup leaders in Niger. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has threatened military intervention if the junta does not restore constitutional order and release President Mohamed Bazoum, who has been held captive for two weeks. However, experts warn that a military intervention could have catastrophic consequences for the region. The Niger coup has raised concerns about regional stability and the fight against Islamist terrorism.

Niamey/Abuja (dpa) - Two weeks after the military takeover in Niger, West African states are meeting today to discuss further actions against the coup leaders. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), under the leadership of Nigeria's President Bola Tinubu, has threatened additional measures, including military intervention, if the junta does not restore constitutional order and reinstate President Mohamed Bazoum, who has been held captive in his residence in the capital city of Niamey for the past two weeks. However, the seven-day deadline set by ECOWAS expired on Sunday.

The Niger was a strategically important ally of the US and European countries and the last democracy in the Sahel region on the edge of the Sahara. France and the US have important bases there, each with over 1000 soldiers, and the German armed forces operate a logistics hub in the country. Following coups in neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso, which turned to Russia afterward, Niger was seen as the last partner for democratic states in a region that has been plagued by growing Islamist terrorism for over a decade and has become a center of jihad. The Niger also serves as a central migration route through Libya to Europe.

The 26 million inhabitants country with the highest birth rate in the world is three and a half times the size of Germany. Despite natural resources such as gold and uranium, more than 40 percent of the population lives in extreme poverty. President Bazoum has been in power since 2021, in the wake of Niger's first democratic transfer of power since gaining independence from colonial power France in 1960. Prior to his term, there were already four military coups, the most recent in 2010.

Why neighboring countries are threatening military action

On July 26, Nigers Presidential Guard, led by General Abdourahamane Tiani, detained the President in his residence because, according to observers, Bazoum wanted to replace Tiani at the helm of the elite unit. After initial speculation about an internal power struggle, the other branches of the military also joined the coup, declaring "the end of the regime" and dissolving all constitutional institutions. Tiani took power.

For ECOWAS, it was "one coup too many," said Senegalese Foreign Minister Aïssata Tall Sall. After Mali, Burkina Faso, and Guinea, Niger became the fourth of the 15 ECOWAS member countries where the military has seized power since 2020, resulting in the suspension of all four. On July 30, ECOWAS imposed sanctions on Niger and called for Bazoum's reinstatement and the restoration of the constitution within one week, or else violence would also be considered.

Experts see Nigeria's President Bola Tinubu behind the threat. Less than four weeks earlier, the new president of Africa's most populous country had pledged to defend democracy against the wave of coups when he took over the ECOWAS presidency. "I think it was a deliberate decision to counter the accusation that ECOWAS would once again stand by and watch the military seize power," said Marija Peran, Nigeria office director at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation.

Senegal, Ivory Coast, and Benin would join a possible intervention. A plan agreed upon by ECOWAS military chiefs reportedly involves a task force of 25,000 soldiers from the four countries, most of which would come from Nigeria. Nigeria has one of the largest armies in Africa, with around 230,000 soldiers and a powerful air force. ECOWAS, with Nigerian participation, has conducted several successful operations in the region, including the Gambia in 2017. However, these operations were always carried out at the invitation of the respective state.

Many factors argue against military intervention

The suspended ECOWAS members Mali, Burkina Faso, and Guinea have sided with the coup regimes. Mali and Burkina Faso have declared any intervention as a "declaration of war." The military junta in Niger has closed its airspace and is preparing for defense. A delegation from Mali demonstratively visited Tiani for talks on military cooperation, while a top-level US diplomat and ECOWAS negotiation delegations did not get to see him.

"A military strike can quickly turn into a widespread conflagration. In practice, I cannot imagine it," said Ulf Laessing, Sahel regional director of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation. Africa analyst Ben Hunter of the British consulting firm Verisk Maplecroft warned, "This would no longer be a fight against rebels; it would be an interstate war and one of the biggest wars West Africa has ever experienced. It would have catastrophic consequences for the entire Sahel region. It would be a gigantic risk for ECOWAS."

After initially heated rhetoric, the tone has also cooled somewhat from Nigeria's side. Not only Germany, the US, and Russia have emphasized the importance of a diplomatic solution, Nigeria's President Tinubu was also quoted as saying on Tuesday.

In Nigeria itself, the prospect of intervention in Niger, which would have to be carried out across the 1600-kilometer border between the two countries, is extremely unpopular. The security situation in the country with around 220 million inhabitants is catastrophic, especially along this border. In addition to terrorism and gang violence in the north, there is bloody land conflict in the center and separatist violence in the southeast. "The Nigerian military is already understaffed to the point where they cannot handle the problems," said expert Peran. The Senate refused to approve the deployment of troops.

Niger's military has also been heavily supported by the West

Military experts believe that an intervention force from other ECOWAS states could be at a disadvantage in a confrontation. European countries have had high hopes for Niger in recent years, as it was intended to serve as an "anchor" for stability in the Sahel region. In 2020 alone, Niger announced plans to double its military from 25,000 to 50,000 soldiers by 2025.

Germany alone trained around 500 Nigerien soldiers through its special forces mission "Gazelle." In western Niger, Germany expanded an entire base for the country's 41st Special Forces Battalion. Equipment and uniforms, vehicles, assault rifles, machine guns, and communication devices were procured for the special forces. Other of the 12 special forces battalions in Niger were supported by other Western partner nations, including the US, Canada, Italy, Belgium, and sometimes France.

This does not mean that the Nigerien army has overall control of the situation. Military insiders were often skeptical about the situation assessments. In October, the Ministry of Defense described the "situation in the operational areas" in some regions such as along the Mali-Burkina Faso border and parts of the border with Nigeria as "mostly uncontrollable." The Nigerien forces were unable to act against jihadists without support. That is why there is hope in Berlin that the coup leaders or elements of the military will change their course.

Source of content: OOO News 2023-08-10 News

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