ECOWAS mobilizes reserve force as Niger crisis remains unresolved

A group of West African governments mobilized a standby military force on Thursday as regional leaders gathered for an emergency summit to chart a clear path out of the crisis in Niger, two weeks after Nigerian generals ousted the country’s elected President Mohamed Bassum, officials said.

West African leaders said at the end of the summit that all options were on the table. Nigerian President Bola Tinubu, who heads the regional group of nations known as ECOWAS, said the group could still opt for “the use of force as a last resort”.

As ECOWAS forces mobilized for that possibility, officials in Abuja, the Nigerian capital where the summit was held, did not immediately address the confusion sparked by their announcement, including speculation that the move could be the first step toward military intervention.

Regional analysts said they doubted any action would happen immediately. Atlantic Council distinguished fellow J. Peter Baum said.

Although military intervention is still possible, said Andrew Lebovitch, a research fellow at the Dutch Klinkendaal Institute, “it could be a negotiating tactic.”

Leaders of the regional bloc on Thursday expressed less support for military action than they imposed a one-week deadline on Nigeria’s military junta after the coup. That deadline expired on Sunday, with no signs of military intervention. Coup leaders launched a new government on Thursday, holding a massive rally last weekend in protest.

Niger is slipping away from the West

Officials who attended the emergency summit did not specify which units were being mobilized. The announcement likely referred to ECOWAS’ standby force of about 2,700 members and the Joint Logistics Unit, which supports both the Senegal-led Western Infantry Battalion and the Nigerian-led Eastern Force.

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Baum said the announcement was likely too general, leaving open questions about what the plan would entail and who would provide such work. Senegal, Benin and Ivory Coast are the only West African countries so far to say they are contributing troops to such an intervention. Nigeria might do the same, but Tinubu’s plan met opposition in Nigeria’s parliament.

Skeptics of military intervention have pointed out that Niger’s neighbors Mali and Burkina Faso might support the Nigerian regime if ECOWAS sends troops.

There are also concerns about the safety of hundreds of American and French troops stationed in Niger, who “could be in the middle of it,” Lebovitch said.

Sending ECOWAS’s standby force of 2,700 soldiers to such a mission “would not be sufficient for the task at hand,” Bam said, noting that any military action could increase the risk to Bazoum, which is controlled by the military junta.

Associated Press, Quoting two Western authorities, Niger’s ruling group threatened to kill Bassum in the event of military intervention, Thursday said. And UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres revealed Concern for Bazoum’s safety.

Given the circumstances, Baum said, “even if led by an army accustomed to carrying out such operations, this would be a dangerous mission.”

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