Military chiefs in West Africa agree on a plan for a potential Niger incursion

Following last week’s coup, the regional bloc of West Africa announced on Friday that its military commanders had approved a plan for a potential intervention in Niger.

The junta that overthrew elected president Mohamed Bazoum on July 26 in a coup was given one week to restore him by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), or risk the use of force.

The latest of numerous coups that have rocked Africa’s Sahel area since 2020, military leaders from the alliance were convening in the capital of Nigeria, Abuja, to strategize how to deal with the problem.

“All the elements that will go into any eventual intervention have been worked out,” ECOWAS commissioner Abdel-Fatau Musah said after the talks finished.

These included “the resources needed, and including the how and when we are going to deploy the force”, he added.

“We want diplomacy to work, and we want this message clearly transmitted to them (the junta) that we are giving them every opportunity to reverse what they have done,” Musah said.

On Thursday, an ECOWAS team landed in Niamey, the capital of Niger, but did not remain overnight as planned. According to a member of the team on Friday, it did not meet with Bazoum or the coup’s commander Abdourahamane Tiani.

The scenario worsened when the junta declared earlier on Friday that it was rescinding military agreements between Niger and France due to the latter’s “careless attitude and its reaction to the situation.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated that Washington is halting several aid programs to the Niger government in the meantime without providing further information.

But he said that “life-saving humanitarian and food assistance will continue” and that American diplomatic and security actions to defend the country’s troops will still be conducted.

France and the US have sent roughly 1,500 and 1,000 troops in Niger, respectively, as part of Western measures to battle the terrorist insurgency that has plagued the Sahel since 2012.

France vehemently disagreed with the coup leaders’ proposal to dissolve military relations, holding that only the “legitimate” government could make such a decision.

Russian activity, frequently through the Wagner mercenary group, has increased while anti-French sentiment in the area is on the rise.

On the anniversary of Niger’s independence, thousands of people rallied in support of the coup on Thursday, some of whom waved Russian flags and shouted anti-French chants.

According to a spokeswoman for the French foreign ministry, “authoritarian repression” was roiling Niger, with members of the Bazoum government and prominent members of the civil society being detained, political parties being shut down, protests being outlawed, and independent media being curtailed.

According to Anne-Claire Legendre of BFM TV, who obtained her information from Aichatou Boulama Kane, the Niger ambassador to France, the conditions of Bazoum’s confinement were getting worse.

Legendre claimed that the overthrown leader “is being held hostage, he has no electricity, and he cannot use his telephones.”

Since July 26, the coup plotters have been holding Bazoum, 63, and his family captive in his official Niamey mansion.

His first significant remark since being detained was an essay he wrote for The Washington Post on Thursday, in which he claimed that a successful putsch would “have devastating consequences for our country, our region, and the entire world.”

Bazoum requested “the US government and the entire international community to help us restore our constitutional order” after winning the election that saw the first-ever transfer of power from one civilian government to another in Niger in 2021.

The ECOWAS presidency is currently held by regional heavyweight Nigeria. As a last resort, military action would be used by the bloc, according to Bola Tinubu, its leader, who has pledged to do “whatever it takes” to end the problem amicably.

The bloc has already slapped economic and financial penalties on the junta, and Nigeria, a major provider of electricity, has reduced its output.

The junta has threatened to use force in response to force.

Military coups have been in power in Mali and Burkina Faso since 2020, and they have said that any regional intervention would amount to a “declaration of war” against them.

A foreign invasion, according to Russia, which has expanded its presence across the Sahel in recent years, would not end the situation.

On Friday, neighboring countries Benin and Germany urged further diplomatic efforts to alleviate the situation.

There were scattered protests on Friday in support and opposition of the coup.

Approximately 100 protesters from various West African countries gathered in Niamey to voice their opposition to any prospective military intervention.

However, according to a local journalist, several hundred people gathered in the western village of Tahoua to support Bazoum and call for his unconditional release.

The junta lifted a curfew that had been in place since the coup on Friday, signaling a partial return to normalcy.

More than half of the 1,079 persons that France has evacuated from the country are French citizens. In contrast, the United States announced that it has hired a jet to evacuate non-essential employees and US citizens who desire to leave.

In a government-chartered Airbus A330 military plane, Spain claimed to have evacuated more than 70 people, including 16 Spanish nationals, from Niger.

Read also: African leaders condemn coup attempt against Niger’s president after his home is surrounded

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