A Belgian Special Operations Forces service member shows a Nigerien soldier his sector of fire while reacting to contact on a dismounted patrol during Exercise Flintlock 2017 in Diffa, Niger, March 11, 2017. Flintlock bolsters partnerships between African, European and North American Special Operations Forces which increases their ability to work together in response to crises. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Zayid Ballesteros)

September 06, 2023

Coups, Counterterrorism, and Competition

Originally published in The Liberal Patriot

Two immediate questions dominated U.S. analysis of the coup in Niger: its potentially devastating impact on U.S. and French counterterrorism operations and rising Russian influence in West Africa through the Wagner group. These concerns echo earlier discussions of the two coups in neighboring Burkina Faso in 2022 and the 2020 and 2021 coups in nearby Mali. Compound governance and security crises taxed each government’s limited abilities to govern, and coup leaders promised change in the form of an improved response to al Qaeda’s and the Islamic State’s expansion. They turned to Russia for security assistance that comes without the strings attached to Western support.

These coups have upended the U.S. military’s ability to conduct operations, support counterterrorism partners, or even contest foreign influence—and revealed fundamental flaws in the overall U.S. approach in the Sahel. An over-emphasis on military responses to terrorist groups in the region ignored and at times exacerbated local conflicts and political tensions in these fragile states, and post-coup legal restrictions mean the United States can neither counter terrorists nor compete with Russia in these nations.

Perhaps Niger’s coup may finally teach the United States the lesson it should have learned from its experience in Mali and then Burkina Faso: more soldiers and more weapons don’t necessarily mean more security—and they certainly don’t equal government stability.

Read more in The Liberal Patriot here.