After weeks of halted operations, The Pentagon announces resumptions of recon missions in Niger.
In a strategic move aimed at safeguarding its personnel and interests, the United States has recently rekindled its intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) missions in Niger.
These flights, aimed at monitoring potential threats and ensuring force protection for American troops stationed in the region, mark a significant development in the complex relationship between the US and Niger. This development comes in the wake of a coup that ousted Nigerien President Mohamed Bazoum in late July, prompting a temporary halt in such operations.
Resumption of ISR Missions
Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh confirmed the resumption of ISR flights over Niger during a recent briefing at the Pentagon.
“We can confirm that the US forces in Niger commenced ISR flight ops to monitor for threats and for force protection,” said Singh.
She also emphasized the United States’ commitment to safeguarding its forces and personnel, explaining that these operations were vital for force protection.
In July, the Pentagon suspended its counterterrorism operations and security force assistance training in Niger following the coup that unseated Nigerien President Mohamed Bazoum.
The Pentagon is repositioning some troops and equipment within Niger and will withdraw a small number of non-essential personnel US officials told @Reuters. It’s the first major US military movement in Niger since a coup in July https://t.co/zwLH1AAUu0 pic.twitter.com/W4QDTfbEtX
— Reuters (@Reuters) September 7, 2023
Singh clarified that these activities had not been restarted, but the resumption of ISR missions signals a strategic shift in the US approach to regional security.
Strategic Shift: Troop Relocation and Diplomatic Breakthroughs
Over 1,000 American troops and sophisticated military equipment have been relocated from Air Base 101 near the capital, Niamey, to Air Base 201 in Agadez.
General James Hecker, the top Air Force commander for Europe and Africa, shed light on the diplomatic efforts that enabled the resumption of ISR missions.
Through negotiations with the junta, the US managed to restart some intelligence and surveillance missions, albeit not at full capacity.
“For a while, we weren’t doing any missions on the bases; they pretty much closed down the airfields,” General Hecker explained. “Through the diplomatic process, we are now doing a large amount of missions that we were doing before.”
Earlier this month, the Pentagon announced a notable precautionary measure, including repositioning troops to an air base further north.
US-Niger Relations and Regional Stability
The United States established diplomatic relations with Niger in the 1960s following the latter nation’s independence from France. Throughout the years, US-Niger relations have remained close and friendly. Niger has faced political challenges, with a military junta seizing power in 2010, leading to subsequent efforts to strengthen democratic institutions.
Niger’s strategic location has made it a critical player in regional efforts to counter terrorism and promote stability. Challenges stemming from neighboring countries, such as Libya, the Lake Chad Region, and Mali, have posed a continuous threat to Niger’s stability, complicating efforts to improve governance, human rights, and economic development.
US foreign assistance to Niger plays a vital role in maintaining stability in a country prone to political volatility, terrorism, and regional instability. Key areas of assistance include food security, counterterrorism capacity building, and security sector reform, among many others.
Diplomatic Tensions and the French Ambassador’s Ordeal
While the resumption of ISR missions signals progress, diplomatic tensions in Niger persist.
French President Emmanuel Macron recently revealed that the French ambassador to Niger, Sylvain Itte, is essentially being “held hostage” at the French embassy in Niamey. Macron asserted that on top of not being able to go out, the military junta obstructed any food deliveries into the embassy, forcing the ambassador to subsist on military rations.
The junta ruling Niger ordered Ambassador Itte to leave the country and subsequently revoked his visa, but the diplomat remained in place. French authorities have refused to recognize the junta’s rule.
President Macron, while emphasizing the legitimacy of ousted Niger President Mohamed Bazoum, pledged to work in alignment with ousted President Bazoum’s decisions regarding the ambassador’s return.
Meanwhile, French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna confirmed that Ambassador Itte continues to work, offering essential diplomatic support through his team.
“[Itte] is working, I can confirm that, and he is very useful through his contacts, his team, there is still a small team with him,” Colonna told reporters.
She also made it clear that his return to France ultimately hinges on President Macron’s decision.
As the United States navigates its renewed ISR missions in Niger and the evolving political landscape, it must tread carefully to protect its interests, support regional stability, and respect the sovereignty of the host nation. The delicate balance between force protection, diplomatic relations, and regional cooperation remains a dynamic challenge in this critical region of West Africa.