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Faith Nyasuguta

Ali Mahaman Lamine Zeine, the Prime Minister of Niger, has accused the United States of causing a rupture in a crucial military agreement that permits U.S. forces to be stationed in the West African nation

In an interview with the Washington Post, Zeine alleged that U.S. officials had tried to dictate Niger’s international alignments, failed to justify the American military presence, and had “done nothing” to combat an Islamist insurgency in the region.

The Americans stayed on our soil, doing nothing while the terrorists killed people and burned towns,” Zeine stated. “It is not a sign of friendship to come on our soil but let the terrorists attack us. We have seen what the United States will do to defend its allies, because we have seen Ukraine and Israel.”

The relationship between the two nations has been strained since a military coup ousted Niger’s democratically elected president, Mohamed Bazoum, last year. In response, Washington froze security support and halted counter-terrorism operations based out of Air Base 201, a strategic location for drone surveillance of Islamic State and al-Qaida-affiliated groups in the Sahel, where more than 1,000 U.S. military personnel were stationed.

Last month, the U.S. complied with Niger’s demands to withdraw its troops, leading to the cancellation of the U.S.-Niger security pact. This move has heightened concerns about diminishing U.S. influence and the potential rise of Russian power in West Africa. 

Neighboring countries like Burkina Faso and Mali have already drawn closer to Moscow, with the Wagner mercenary group establishing a presence in the region.

Niger Prime Minister /AFP/

After the coup in Niger and before his assassination in August, Wagner group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin expressed support for Niger’s new military government and offered Wagner’s services. Although U.S. diplomats and military officials proposed continued cooperation, Russia deployed troops to the capital, Niamey, resulting in a situation where Russian and U.S. forces now occupy opposite ends of the same airbase.

In his interview, Zeine highlighted the breakdown in U.S.-Niger relations, emphasizing that Niger’s new government, the National Council for Safeguarding the Homeland (CNSP), was displeased with the U.S. freezing military support but keeping troops in the country. Gen. Michael Langley, head of the U.S. Africa Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee in March that while the U.S. had ceased counter-terrorism operations in Niger, maintaining a U.S. military presence in the region was crucial to counter Russian influence.

“I’d say that a number of countries are at the tipping point of actually being captured by the Russian Federation as they are spreading some of their false narratives across Libya,” Langley said. “At [an] accelerated pace, [the] Russian Federation is really trying to take over central Africa, as well as the Sahel.”

Zeine pointed out the contrasting responses to Niger’s coup from Russia, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates, which welcomed the new leadership with “open arms”. He lamented the lack of response from the U.S., stating, “Nigeriens were saying, ‘Americans are our friends, they will help us this time to annihilate the terrorists.’ But there was radio silence.” 

He added that Niger would not have turned to Russia if the U.S. had responded to their requests for additional support, including planes, drones, and air defense systems.

Despite the tensions, Zeine expressed a desire for continued economic and diplomatic relations with the U.S. “If American investors arrived, we would give them what they wanted. We have uranium. We have oil. We have lithium. Come, invest. It is all we want.”

Zeine also took issue with comments by Molly Phee, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, who reportedly instructed Niger to avoid engaging with Russia and Iran if it wanted to maintain its security relationship with the U.S., and threatened sanctions if Niger pursued a uranium deal with Iran

/National Geographic/

Zeine insisted that “absolutely nothing” had been signed with Iran and criticized Phee for her “condescending tone and lack of respect.”

In response, a U.S. official told the Washington Post that the message to Niamey was “delivered in a professional manner, in response to valid concerns about developments.”


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Faith Nyasuguta

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