Understanding the Crisis in the Sahel: Analysis of the Deteriorating U.S. Counterterrorism Plan in West Africa

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Washington, DC — Following the coup in Niger in August 2023, the Biden administration refrained from acknowledging it as a “coup” for a period of two months. This decision was made to avoid triggering US laws that would require the termination of security cooperation, development assistance, and economic support. Additionally, they hoped to negotiate an agreement with the junta to maintain 1,100 US troops at two bases in Niger and continue their counterterrorism efforts in the Sahel using drones. However, it became evident that reaching an agreement with the junta would not be possible, leading the Biden administration to finally declare the event as a coup on October 10, 2023.

It is highly likely that the junta will respond by putting an end to US-led counterterrorism operations originating from its territory and expelling US troops, as they have already done with French troops. This is the belief shared by officers from the US Africa Command (Africom). General James Hecker, commander of US Air Forces in Europe and Africa, stated that the US is actively exploring alternative host nations and engaging in discussions with certain countries to relocate their operations.

Africom’s operations in the Sahel heavily rely on strategically located air bases for intelligence gathering, surveillance, and support of Nigerian military initiatives. The US has invested $110 million in upgrading the Agadez air base in Niger (where all US military personnel have currently been relocated) to enable these operations.

During his visit to Kenya on September 25, 2023, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin stated that the US would carefully review actions that prioritize both their diplomatic and security objectives in the Sahel. Therefore, the Biden administration must go beyond mere evaluation and bring an end to their military operations in the region.

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