The United States is preparing to officially classify the military coup in Niger as a coup after months of delay, officials said

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Demonstrators carry the Nigerien flag during an Independence Day demonstration in Niamey on August 3, 2023.



CNN

The US State Department is preparing to classify Military coup in Niger Three US officials told CNN it would amount to a coup next week, a decision that could have major implications for the US’s ability to work with an important partner in the fight against terrorism in the region.

The department is set to announce that the United States will suspend certain forms of aid to Niger as a result of its designation as a coup, an official and another person familiar with the discussion said.

US officials said the US embassy could continue to operate and the US military would be able to legally keep troops in Niger if it was labeled a coup. But officials said the Pentagon is still assessing how the change will impact the nearly 1,000 U.S. troops stationed in the country.

US officials said US forces were unlikely to withdraw completely, and some would likely remain in a limited intelligence-gathering role.

A State Department spokesperson said: “While we continue our diplomatic engagements to maintain civilian rule in Niger, we continue to evaluate additional next steps but have nothing to offer at this time.”

A Pentagon spokesman declined to comment.

The administration can continue to provide life-saving and other types of assistance deemed important to U.S. security interests, while simultaneously suspending other assistance to the government, including economic and security assistance. These details are still being resolved.

Niger’s military leaders ousted democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum in July. But, unlike some allies, the United States has been reluctant to officially describe the takeover as a “coup,” because it is a legal designation that requires the United States to restrict certain forms of foreign aid to Niger – most notably funding security assistance to Niger. Nigerian forces.

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Designating a coup could cut off US funding and support for Niger’s military, something the US military has sought to avoid — even as France announced last week that it would withdraw all its forces from the country by the end of this year. year. The United States has worked to support Nigerien forces for ten years to strengthen its war against terrorists in the Sahel region of Africa, and the United States has several bases inside Niger where counter-terrorism operations are conducted.

According to the US Embassy in Niamey, since 2012, the Pentagon and State Department have provided Niger with more than $350 million in military assistance equipment and training programs – one of the largest security assistance and training programs in sub-Saharan Africa.

But US law restricts funds appropriated by Congress to train and equip foreign military forces in the event that a “duly elected” leader of a nation is overthrown by that nation’s military establishment.

“There was frustration in Congress with the administration’s lack of communication with the Hill and the administration’s slow decision-making process,” a person familiar with the discussions said.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in Djibouti last week that the United States still had “the same footprint in Niger” as it had before the takeover, and continued to conduct intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions for the purposes of protecting US forces still stationed. there. But he said the United States “has not resumed any operations with Nigerian forces.”

The US military mission in Niger is one of the main reasons why the United States long postponed legally declaring the situation a military coup and instead engaged in wide-ranging diplomacy to try to reverse the Nigerian military’s seizure of power, officials say. It was said before CNN. But those diplomatic efforts were not successful, and the army remains in power.

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“We are very close to saying, once again, that this is an attempted coup,” Pentagon Deputy Press Secretary Sabrina Singh said on August 15 when asked why the United States had not made the legal designation. I think we are, by all means, from the State Department, from the Department of Defense, from other levels of government, trying to work this out in a peaceful way. As you know, Niger is a very important partner for us in the region.

The Secretary of State can issue a waiver to restore military aid once a coup is determined, but only if he determines that it is in the national security interest of the United States and consults with Congress first, according to the Congressional Research Service. Congress for the first time last year included this waiver in the 2023 omnibus spending bill.

Senior Pentagon officials believe that maintaining their presence in Niger is vital to efforts to counter terrorism in the region, and they believe this is possible even in light of the internal political turmoil there. Many junta leaders have worked with the United States and been trained by the United States as part of US security cooperation with the country, current and former officials told CNN, and Nigerien military leaders have not expressed anti-American sentiment or asked the United States to leave. .

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