Soldiers from Niger’s presidential guard blockaded the office of President Mohamed Bazoum on Wednesday, according to published reports. Several sources say they have detained Bazoum. The West African regional and economic bloc ECOWAS has termed it an “attempted coup.”
The mutiny is the latest in a long line of military uprisings in West Africa, many of them led by U.S.-trained officers. It was not immediately clear if any of the Nigerien troops involved were trained or mentored by the United States, but the U.S. has trained members of Niger’s presidential guard in recent years, according to Pentagon and State Department documents.
U.S.-trained officers have been involved in at least six coups in neighboring Burkina Faso and Mali since 2012. In total, America’s mentees have conducted at least 10 coups in West Africa since 2008, including in Burkina Faso (2014, 2015, 2022); Gambia (2014); Guinea (2021); Mali (2012, 2020, 2021); and Mauritania (2008).
“We are aware of the situation in Niamey, Niger,” John Manley, a spokesperson for U.S. Africa Command told The Intercept. “We are working with the U.S. Department of State to further assess the situation and will provide information when it becomes available.” The command did not respond to questions about whether any of the mutineers had been trained by the United States.
Over the last decade, Niger and its neighbors in the West African Sahel have been plagued by armed groups that have taken the notion of the outlaw motorcycle gang to its most lethal apogee. Under the black banners of jihadist militancy, men on “motos” — two to a bike, their faces obscured by sunglasses and turbans, bearing Kalashnikovs — have terrorized villages across the borderlands where Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger meet.
In 2002, long before motorcycle attacks became commonplace in the tri-border region, the U.S. began providing Niger with counterterrorism assistance; Washington flooded the country with military equipment, from armored vehicles to surveillance aircraft. Since 2012, U.S. taxpayers have spent more than $500 million there, making it one of the largest security assistance programs in sub-Saharan Africa.
U.S. troops train, advise, and assist their Nigerien counterparts and have fought and even died there in an Islamic State ambush near the village of Tongo Tongo in 2017. Over the last decade, the number of U.S. military personnel deployed to Niger has jumped from just 100 to 1,016. Niger has also seen a proliferation of U.S. outposts.
Niger hosts one of the largest and most expensive drone bases run by the U.S. military. Built in the northern city of Agadez for $110 million and maintained at a cost of $20 to $30 million each year, Air Base 201 is a surveillance hub and the lynchpin of an archipelago of U.S. outposts in West Africa. Home to Space Force personnel, a Joint Special Operations Air Detachment, and a fleet of drones — including armed MQ-9 Reapers — the base is an exemplar of failed U.S. military efforts in Niger and the wider region. Earlier this year, The Intercept reported that bandits conducted a daylight armed robbery of base contractors and drove off with roughly 24 million West African CFA francs, about $40,000.
Throughout all of Africa, the State Department counted just nine terrorist attacks in 2002 and 2003, the first years of U.S. counterterrorism assistance to Niger. Last year, the number of violent events in Burkina Faso, Mali, and western Niger alone reached 2,737, according to a report by the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, a Defense Department research institution. This represents a jump of more than 30,000 percent since the U.S. began its counterterrorism efforts. During 2002 and 2003, terrorists caused 23 casualties in Africa. In 2022, militant attacks in just those three Sahelian nations killed almost 7,900 people. “The Sahel now accounts for 40 percent of all violent activity by militant Islamist groups in Africa,” more than any other region on the continent, according to the Pentagon’s Africa Center.
In a meeting with Niger’s President Bazoum earlier this year, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken decried the growing regional influence of the Russia-linked Wagner Group, a mercenary army led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a former hot dog vender turned warlord. “Where Wagner has been present, bad things have inevitably followed,” said Blinken, noting that the group’s presence is associated with “overall worsening security.” The U.S. was a better option, he said, and needed to prove “that we can actually deliver results.” But the U.S already has a two-decade record of counterterrorism engagement in the region; “bad things” and “overall worsening security” have been the hallmarks of those years. Wagner has only been active in the region since late 2021.
In neighboring Mali, as The Intercept reported earlier this week, Col. Assimi Goïta — who worked with U.S. Special Operations forces, participated in U.S. training exercises, and attended a Joint Special Operations University seminar in Florida — overthrew the government in 2020 and 2021. After close to two decades of failed Western-backed counterterrorism campaigns, Goïta’s junta struck a deal with Wagner; the mercenary group has since been implicated in hundreds of human rights abuses alongside Malian troops, including extrajudicial executions and forced disappearances of dozens of civilians in central Mali since December 2022, as detailed in a new Human Rights Watch report.
Bazoum and his family are “doing well,” the Nigerien presidency said on the platform formerly known as Twitter. The Nigerien embassy in Washington, D.C., did not respond to The Intercept’s request for comment.