There are thousands of American troops based in Niger, which has recently come under the control of an adversarial government. France, which long held sway in the country, has evacuated its people, leaving a power vacuum. After Joe Biden badly bungled the withdrawal from Afghanistan, it’s fair to ask if he’s waiting too long to begin pulling Americans out of Niger. Will the nation’s new leaders also be left with billions of dollars worth of American military equipment? Will troops lose their lives in a chaotic evacuation under fire? Only Senator Rand Paul seems to understand the risks in Niger. And he is trying desperately to get the troops home safely. The New York Sun’s Anthony Grant reports:
The last time we raised the periscope on troubled Niger, chaos reigned: President Macron was evacuating France’s envoy out of her former colony and President Bazoum, ousted in a midsummer coup, was being detained by the self-described president of the National Council for Safeguarding of the Nation, General Tiani. Paris has been demanding his release, but nobody at Niamey can be bothered to listen — especially not to the French.
It’s another in a line of French foreign policy flops — international coalition to stamp out Hamas, anyone? — but that is not what’s weighing heavily on the mind of Senator Paul, Republican of Kentucky and member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. Washington has more than a thousand troops in the impoverished African nation, and Dr. Paul wants them out.
Last week, citing a continuation of his efforts to “restore Congress’s constitutional war powers” and the need “to address the deteriorating political situation and increased risk to U.S. troops in Niger,” Dr. Paul forced the Senate to vote on his War Powers Resolution. That resolution sought to direct President Biden to remove all American forces “from hostilities in Niger within 30 days of its enactment.”
He didn’t get the votes. While 10 senators supported the resolution, 86 Senate Republicans and Democrats “voted against the removal of U.S. troops in Niger amidst a military coup, further entangling America in another foreign conflict,” Dr. Paul said in a statement.
“We have over 1,000 U.S. military personnel sitting in the middle” of the “Sahel powder keg,” he added. “American forces face a very real risk of being caught in the crossfire of a regional African war. So, we must ask, what are we doing in Niger?”
For the libertarian conservative lawmaker, that Congress never voted to send troops to Niger is a major point of contention. Less academically, there is no question that mayhem in the region is boiling over. Earlier this month, jihadists launched an attack against the legitimate Nigerian army at Tahoua, killing 29 soldiers. The French ambassador may be gone but there are an estimated 1,500 French troops in Niger, with more than a few reportedly based near Tahoua — but none stepped in to thwart that onslaught.
Possibly they were busy guarding a major uranium mine owned by a French nuclear giant, Areva.
France has a smattering of forces in former French African colonies almost by default — c’est l’histoire. There are strategic mineral deposits too — gold and uranium in particular, both in Niger and in neighboring Mali. Washington has underwritten a major drone base at Agadez, on the southern rim of the Sahara. The political volatility that has swept over those desert sands since July may be a compelling reason to actually keep some American forces in the country instead of drawing them down.
Read more here.
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