The U.S. reached an agreement with Niger’s military junta to close two military bases in the country in what amounts to a “tactical setback” for counterterrorism efforts in the Sahel. But the closure also “forces the U.S. to review its military posture in the region,” says USIP’s Joseph Sany, adding “there may be other options.”

U.S. Institute of Peace experts discuss the latest foreign policy issues from around the world in On Peace, a brief weekly collaboration with SiriusXM's POTUS Channel 124.


Laura Coates: Joining us now is Joseph Sany the USIP's Africa Center vice president. He joins us now. Welcome, Joseph. How are you?

Joseph Sany: Good. Thank you for asking. Thank you for having me, Laura.

Laura Coates: I'm glad that you're here. I know that there has been a lot of focus on what's been happening abroad. But I want to focus more specifically on your area of expertise, particularly with this news that has come out recently about the United States reaching an agreement with Niger to withdraw military forces by this coming fall, according to the Defense Department. Can you just lay the land for us a little bit of what is the current situation right now in Niger?

Joseph Sany: Yes, thank you. This is a good opportunity, I think. Just for background, the United States has two military bases in Niger. The main purpose was surveillance and monitoring Islamic jihadist activities in the area. And so, in March, Niger decided to revoke the security cooperation of the United States and asked the United States to leave. And currently they are negotiating the terms of the withdrawal. But I just have to say that the situation is not getting any better as far as the country itself is concerned, and the war against Islamic Jihadist and terrorists. And so that's where we are. So, the United States is negotiating an orderly withdrawal. According to the details, by September 15 the United States will be out of there.

Laura Coates: So, when we go to … and think about what's at stake here … I mean, is there … what are the consequences of having this withdrawal? And does it leave more vulnerabilities?

Joseph Sany: Definitely. I think it is, from the United States perspective, we have to admit it is a tactical setback. Because Niger was chosen at the beginning because of the geographic location. It gave the United States more coverage in terms of surveillance, more coverage and capabilities to strike the bad guys so to speak. And so, by leaving Niger, we are diminished. There is some setback. But however, it's also a strategic opportunity for the United States, because it forces the United States to review its military posture in the region. As for Niger, the calculus is simple. The United States leaves, Russia comes in, and Russia provides them with two things that the United States could not provide them. That is the military equipment and protection for the regime. Let us not forget this is a military junta whose focus, main focus, is regime preservation. And so, Russia provides those two things, why does the United States not? That's where we are and those are the stakes. The U.S. will lose, in the short term, surveillance and counterterrorist capabilities. But in the short term, the military junta will gain equipment from Russia and then most likely preservation.

Laura Coates: Now, I understand that, I mean, according to a defense official, Niger has been an anchor for the United States' counterterrorism efforts for over a decade. If that's the case, what impact does this have on our counterterrorism efforts?

Joseph Sany: Okay, it’s a debate because in fact, the reason why our counterterrorism effort was more or less successful, to put it that way, was because not only the centrality of Niger, but the political stability of the regime. So, after the coup d'etat in July, that factor was off the table, because the regime has become very politically unstable, and therefore that strategic advantage that the U.S. had, was off. And so, that's why I'm saying it's debatable. I am not sure that in the long run, with an unstable Niger, the U.S. would have had the same advantage. Now, there will be other options in the region. There are some stable regimes in the region. But as I said, the U.S. will have to review its military posture and the vitality we are giving to military responses to what is in fact a governance and political phenomenon. Violent extremism has its root causes in political instability, the failure of government to respond to citizens’ needs, and all kinds of grievances. It’s not necessarily of military origin.

Laura Coates: And just the fact that there has been this, or this proposed, I guess, coming by September 15, this agreement to withdraw military forces from Niger by September 15. This does not mean there's an end to, say, diplomatic dialogues, right? 

Joseph Sany: Correct. You're spot on. It doesn't mean it's the end of our U.S. strategic engagement with Niger. It simply means that we will have to review our military posture in Niger. By the way, the United States is still the highest humanitarian donor to Niger, our development is still ongoing, even though limited because of our loss. After all, we have a junta in place, we had a coup d'etat, but by no means … We have a very active ambassador in Niger. She's trying to hold the fort and save the relationship as much as possible. But yes, remember, the U.S. has three tools in this strategic engagement with countries: diplomacy, defense and development. We will have to review the defense engagement.

Laura Coates: Really important to hear this perspective today and to keep us apprised of what's going on there as well. Joseph Sany, thank you so much for joining us today. We always appreciate it.

Joseph Sany: Thank you.

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