Niger has placed its military on “maximum alert” over fears that the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) will invade to reinstate Nigerien President Mohamed Bazoum, who was ousted in a July 26 coup.
An internal document issued by the Niger junta’s defense chief said the order to put the military on its highest state of readiness is to “avoid a general surprise.” The document said that “threats of aggression to the national territory are increasingly being felt.”
ECOWAS has been threatening military action to reinstate Bazoum if diplomacy fails. According to Reuters, the bloc tried to downplay its threats on Friday, saying it was still leaving room for negotiations while not ruling out military action.
“For the avoidance of doubt, let me state unequivocally that ECOWAS has neither declared war on the people of Niger, nor is there a plan, as it is being purported, to invade the country,” said ECOWAS Commission President Omar Alieu Touray.
Any ECOWAS military intervention to reinstate Bazoum would require an invasion of Niger, which would risk spiraling into a major regional war. Burkina Faso and Mali have said they would consider an ECOWAS intervention a declaration of war against them. On Friday, Niger has given the two countries the authorization to send troops in the event of an attack.
Also on Friday, the Niger junta ordered the French ambassador to leave the country within 48 hours, a demand rejected by Paris. “The putschists do not have the authority to make this request, the ambassador’s approval coming solely from the legitimate elected Nigerien authorities,” a French Foreign Ministry official told AFP.
France has backed ECOWAS threats and has about 1,500 troops stationed in Niger. The US has about 1,100 troops in the country and a major drone base, a military presence Washington does not want to give up.