The geopolitical situation in the Sahel region of Western Africa continues in a flux, as the coup leaders in three former French colonies have enacted a security agreement against internal insurgents or external invasion.
“Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, three West African Sahel nations ruled by military juntas, signed a security pact on Saturday promising to come to the aid of each other in case of any rebellion or external aggression.”
The three countries are fighting insurgents linked to Al Qaeda and Islamic State and are under pressure by the Western Powers and also by the African neighbors from ECOWAS regional block, who have threatened the use of force to reinstate the deposed president Bazoum, after the coup in Niger.
Mali and Burkina Faso have vowed to come to Niger’s aid if it is attacked.
“‘Any attack on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of one or more contracted parties will be considered an aggression against the other parties’, according to the charter of the pact, known as the Alliance of Sahel States.
‘I have today signed with the Heads of State of Burkina Faso and Niger the Liptako-Gourma charter establishing the Alliance of Sahel States, with the aim of establishing a collective defence and mutual assistance framework’, Mali junta leader Assimi Goita said on his X social media account.”
Relations between France and the three African states are in an all-time low point. France withdrew its troops from Mali and Burkina Faso, and is at the moment in a tense standoff with the Niger junta after it also asked Paris to withdraw its troops and its ambassador.
France has, so far, refused to recognize the authority of the junta.
Deutsche Welle reported:
“‘The Liptako-Gourma Charter will create the Alliance of Sahel States (AES), Mali’s junta leader Assimi Goita posted on X, formerly known as Twitter. Its aim is to “establish an architecture of collective defence and mutual assistance for the benefit of our populations’, he wrote.
[…] The Liptako-Gourma region, where the Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger borders meet, has been ravaged by jihadism in recent years. Mali has, in addition to fighting jihadis seen a resumption of hostilities by predominantly Tuareg armed groups over the past week.
‘This alliance will be a combination of military and economic efforts between the three countries’, Mali’s Defense Minister Abdoulaye Diop told journalists. ‘Our priority is the fight against terrorism in the three countries’.”
French Ambassador Sylvain Itte has refused to leave Niger after the Nigerien Foreign Ministry accused him of ‘ignoring an invitation for a meeting with the ministry’, and also of ‘actions by the French government contrary to the interests of Niger’.
While France is protesting that its ambassador is a hostage in the Embassy, resorting to eat military rations, at least some progress was reported when the Niger military released a French elected official from prison after 5 days.
Associated Press reported:
“A French official detained in Niger last week has been released, the French government said. The arrest heightened tensions between France and Niger, where military officers deposed an elected president last month and ordered French officials to leave.
France’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Stephane Jullien, counselor for French citizens abroad, was released five days after he was arrested. It didn’t provide details about the release, or about the reason for his arrest. The French government had urged his liberation.”
Around 1,500 French troops are still based in Niger ‘to help local forces fight Islamic extremists’.
The military cooperation is suspended since the coup, and the junta, now under sanctions by Western and regional African powers, accused Paris of amassing forces on neighboring countries in preparation for an invasion.
Meanwhile, the U.S. military has resumed flying drones and manned aircraft out of air bases in the Niger.
The move comes more than a month after the coup halted all activities.
AP News reported:
“Since the July coup, the 1,100 U.S. forces deployed in the country have been confined inside their military bases. Last week the Pentagon said some military personnel and assets had been moved from the air base near Niamey, which is the capital of Niger, to another in Agadez. Niamey is about 920 kilometers away from Agadez.
In response to a question from the Associated Press on how the U.S. was able to continue its counterterrorism missions without those flights, Gen. James Hecker, the top Air Force commander for Europe and Africa, said in recent weeks some of those intelligence and surveillance missions have been able to resume due to U.S. negotiations with the junta.
‘For a while we weren’t doing any missions on the bases, they pretty much closed down the airfields’, Hecker said. ‘Through the diplomatic process, we are now doing, I wouldn’t say 100% of the missions that we were doing before, but we’re doing a large amount of missions that we’re doing before’.”
Niger is the main regional outpost for counter-terror operations against Islamic extremist movements, such as Islamic extremist group Boko Haram, the Islamic State and al-Qaida affiliate Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin.
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