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Niger generals recall envoy from Abidjan after remarks by president Ouattara

Colonel Major Amadou Abdramane, member of Niger's junta on August 3, 2023.   -  
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Cleared / ORTN - TÉLÉ SAHEL via AFP


Tension is brewing between the Nigerien military authorities and Côte d'Ivoire.

The coup leaders recalled the Nigerien envoy in Abidjan on Monday (Aug. 14) after remarks by Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara.

On his return from a summit of the ECOWAS August 10, Ouattara said the heads of state had agreed a military operation should "start as soon as possible".

"Far from being the expression of the will of the brotherly Ivorian people, whose friendship with the people of Niger is unequivocal, this unusual declaration by President Ouattara and his eagerness to carry out an aggression against Niger which is in every way illegal and senseless, reflects in reality an order addressed to him and certain of his peers in the ECOWAS by other external powers, with the aim of preserving interests that no longer match those of today's Niger."

Ouattara said Côte d'Ivoire would contribute a battalion of up to one thousand one hundred troops, alongside Nigeria and Benin.

Last week, ECOWAS leaders ordered the deployment of a "standby force", but gave no details on a possible military intervention. 

They also reaffirmed they'd priviledge a diplomatic route to restore president Bazoum.

Risky intervention

The "standby force" is mandated by ECOWAS for missions related to peacekeeping. It has already been deployed in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea-Bissau and Gambia. Experts doubt the feasibility of a high-risk and difficult-to-implement military operation.

However, ECOWAS "has never agreed on the type of specific missions that these forces should carry out", explains Marc-André Boisvert, researcher and consultant on the Sahel affiliated with the Center FrancoPaix in Montreal.

The establishment of such a force "depends on the will of the contributors", which "requires a lot of negotiations between the countries", he says. However, "there is a lot of mistrust between the countries" of ECOWAS according to him.

Senegal, Benin, Nigeria and Côte d'Ivoire have said they are ready to send troops, but face internal criticism and hesitation from other West African countries.

"Such an operation should mobilize 3,000 to 4,000 soldiers," said Senegalese General Mansour Seck. The strength of the Nigerien army is estimated at around 30,000 men, including some 11,000 deployed in the theater of operations, said President Bazoum in 2022.

All the experts agree on the difficulty of carrying out such a military operation in Niger or in its capital. A land offensive would force West African forces to travel several hundred kilometers over hostile territory, and an air operation on the presidential palace where the ousted president is being held raises just as many doubts.

In the latter case, Niamey airport could be of strategic importance in order to deploy airborne troops, according to analysts.

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