Secretary of State Antony Blinken has expressed support for the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) after it threatened to use force against coup leaders in Niger if President Mohamed Bazoum is not reinstated.
ECOWAS, a bloc of 15 West African nations, held an extraordinary summit to discuss the coup on Sunday. In a joint communique, ECOWAS leaders announced sanctions and said if Bazoum is not reinstated within a week, the bloc will “take all measures necessary to restore constitutional order” in Niger. “Such measures may include the use of force,” the leaders said.
Following the ECOWAS summit, Blinken released a statement backing the bloc. “The United States welcomes and commends the strong leadership of the [ECOWAS] Heads of State and Government to defend constitutional order in Niger,” Blinken said.
“We join ECOWAS and regional leaders in calling for the immediate release of President Mohamed Bazoum and his family and the restoration of all state functions to the legitimate, democratically-elected government,” the statement added.
On Monday, one of the coup leaders in Niger claimed that the ousted government authorized a French military attack on the presidential palace to free Bazoum. According to Al Jazeera, in response to the allegations, the French Foreign Ministry did not confirm or deny if it was planning military intervention but said the only legitimate authority it recognized in Niger was Bazoum.
Any military intervention carried out in Niger, whether by France or ECOWAS, could involve the US, as there are about 1,100 US troops in the country and a major American drone base known as Air Base 201. The US has provided counterterrorism assistance to Niger for about two decades, and at least one of the coup leaders previously received training from the US.
US counterterrorism efforts in West Africa have been a complete failure as violent attacks have spiked in the region since the US got involved. Writing for The Intercept, journalist Nick Turse explained that in 2002 and 2003, the first years of US counterterrorism assistance to Niger, the State Department counted just nine terrorist attacks in all of Africa.
“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 US began its counterterrorism efforts,” Turse wrote.