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Katherine Zimmerman

Fellow, American Enterprise Institute

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Opinion

African coups demand US policy changes

Sep 15, 2023

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Katherine Zimmerman

Fellow, American Enterprise Institute

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A string of recent military coups toppling governments in the African Sahel, from Guinea to Sudan, poses new risks and challenges to the United States. France, formerly a key ally in African security affairs, has also massively reduced its forces on the continent, at times being chased out by pro-Moscow forces.

Straight Arrow News contributor Katherine Zimmerman warns the United States of the urgent need for new policies for those nations that have experienced a recent coup. She argues that continuing on with our current policy, without exceptions, would enable adversaries like Russia and al-Qaeda to advance their own agenda at the expense of American security.

In the past three years, eight coups have occurred in six countries in the Sahel, creating a belt of instability that stretches from Guinea, on Africa’s Atlantic coastline, to Sudan in the east. Half of these countries — Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger — have also faced a rapidly growing threat from al-Qaeda and Islamic State-linked groups.

Legal restrictions fall into place once the United States determines a military-led seizure of power has occurred, as it has already in Burkina Faso and Mali, limiting the types of aid America can provide.

These had little impact on counterterrorism while the French military still had permission to lead regional counterterrorism operations, but has become a major challenge to the United States in the Sahel now that the French are gone.

n late July, a military Hunter sees power in Niger air. In the past three years, eight coos have occurred in six countries in the Sahel, creating a belt of instability that stretches from Guinea on Africa’s Atlantic coastline, to Sudan in the east. Half of these countries Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger have also faced a rapidly growing threat from al Qaeda and Islamic State linked groups. legal restrictions fall into place once the United States determines a military led seizure of power has occurred, as it has already in Burkina Faso and Mali, limiting the types of aid America can provide. These had little impact on counterterrorism while the French military still had permission to lead regional counterterrorism operations, but has become a major challenge the United States in the Sahel now that the French are gone. Briefly, the American approach the terrorism threat in the Sahel has been to provide strategic support to the French who had taken lead on counterterrorism effort. American interests in the region are limited, and though complicated, France had better ties to its former colonies than the United States did. The US footprint rose from a few 100 troops in Asia providing logistical and intelligence support to the French military in 2013, to just over 1000 troops today, primarily working from two air bases in Asia. US counterterrorism assistance in the Sahel, aims to build local partner capacity and supports partner led counterterrorism operations. The US military ran train and equip programs in Burkina Faso in Asia, for example, while advising and accompanying on counterterrorism missions, until an ambush in Niger in fall 2017 killed four Americans and prompted restrictions on US troops movement outside the wire. Niger serves as the hub for the US military posture, and the US flies surveillance drones out of its bases in Niger defeat intelligence to the French and America’s African partners. In August 2020, a Malian Colonel led troops to oust the elected president, after major protests took place calling for the president’s resignation. The United States immediately cut off its assistance as required by law, but French military support remained. The Malian military junta appointed an interim civilian led government and announced the democratic transition within two years, which would have met us legal requirements to turn the tap back on. But then the hunter overthrew the government it had appointed in May 2021. France suspended assistance briefly, and resumed its operations in July of that year. But the welcome were out for the French, who were compelled to withdraw from Mali in 2022 and enrolled Russia’s vogner group to provide counterterrorism support. security assistance was only the entry point. Wagner now has financial interest in mines in Mali, and analysts believed the influence effort has been to help in Russian state capture, making it nearly impossible for the military junta to make decisions that run against Russian interests. Mali seems to be the worst case scenario. Fears of the same story playing out in Burkina Faso have proven unfounded so far. But statements from the Bergen Avi military Hunter describing Russia as a strategic partner raised concerns. The United States stopped all counterterrorism assistance to Burkina Faso after its coos in 2022. The regional al Qaeda linked group has nearly encircled both Burkina Faso rose and Molly’s capitals, and the governments have lost more territory to the extremists. The United States seems to be following the lead of a regional bloc of African countries as to whether it will call the recent events in Niger where a coup in all probability the delay is to buy time to determine how to prevent America’s counterterrorism approach from collapsing and creating an opportunity for Russia to gain influence. Meanwhile, US assistance has been suspended. But the US military has remained in country on hold for now. A bad option for the United States is to cut all security assistance to Niger. The most likely outcome from such a course of action would be the further expansion of al Qaeda and the Islamic State in the Sahel. Especially since the Birkin Abbe, Malian and Nigerian security forces were already taxed trying to counter these groups. The US military could continue to conduct its own counterterrorism operations in Asia, so long as they did not run through the military Hunter. but to what end, the US postured itself to support partners not to commit troops to the counterterrorism fight. What good is gathering intelligence through drone surveillance if there is no ground partner to receive that intelligence and target the enemy? A less bad The option might be to take advantage of a recent amendment to post coup aid restrictions that permits the government to issue a waiver for security assistance. The US military could then continue to work with the Nigerians on the counterterrorism front. That might be enough to keep Russian overtures from pulling the chair away from the United States. And the promise of a similar waiver might serve as a small carrot to help entice the military junta in Burkina Faso to transition to a civilian led government. But this option, of course, runs the risk that US assistance cements military rule in Asia and undermines the fledgling democracy. Regardless, it’s clear coos challenge the US counterterrorism approach, and when the United States can no longer provide assistance, Russia is all too willing to make an offer. Whatever path forward the Biden administration chooses in Niger, it must also review the US approach to counterterrorism in fragile states and postcode restrictions to find a better way forward for the future.

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