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US Suspends Security Cooperation With Niger as Westerners Flee

The United States has suspended its counterterrorism training with soldiers in Niger after a coup against the country’s elected president has caused European partners to evacuate, the Pentagon’s top spokesman said Tuesday. 

“As far as security cooperation, those efforts right now are suspended in light of the situation, but certainly we maintain close contact with our Niger military counterparts in the country as the situation continues to unfold,” press secretary Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder told reporters. 

Ryder added that even with the suspension, there are no immediate plans to pull the roughly 1,100 U.S. troops stationed in Niger.  

Niger President Mohamed Bazoum was arrested on July 26 by military leaders supporting Gen. Abdourahmane Tchiani, with his detainment coming at the hands of his own presidential guard. 

The coup prompted France and Spain to reportedly evacuate their citizens and other Europeans as Niger’s military has imposed border closures. 

There are no immediate plans, however, to evacuate U.S. citizens from the country, with individuals instead advised to avoid “unnecessary movements,” National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said earlier Tuesday. 

“We don’t have any indications of direct threats to U.S. citizens or to our facilities and so, we’ve not changed our posture with respect to our presence in Niger at this time,” Kirby said, adding that officials are monitoring the situation “literally by the hour.” 

The United States has also held off on labeling Bazoum’s ouster a “coup.”

Washington has two drone bases and hundreds of American special forces in Niger to keep terrorist groups at bay in the region, including the Islamic State’s Africa offshoot and Boko Haram.  

The country also serves as a key hub for U.S. intelligence gathering in the Sahel and eastern Africa, and Nigerian forces are trained and advised by the American military, with Washington suppling hundreds of millions of dollars in military assistance to the country. 

Asked whether the security cooperation suspension extended to counterterrorism training and surveillance drone flights out of the U.S. bases in Niger, Ryder would not say.  

“I’m not going to get into intelligence operations and discuss the specifics of that,” Ryder said. “We continue to stay in contact with the Niger military. But in terms of training, for example, those types of things have been suspended.” 

He added that the situation remains fluid and it’s “just too soon to characterize” the unrest as a coup.   

“We’re not going to get into labels,” Ryder said. “We are going to continue to be focused on using diplomatic tools to try to preserve Niger’s hard-earned democracy.” 

Source : The Hill