Africa

Niger MPs to Vote on Foreign Troop Presence

Niger’s MPs will on Friday for the first time debate the presence of foreign forces fighting jihadists in the impoverished Sahel nation, government and parliamentary sources told AFP.

A vote will follow, a government source said, as an official document handed to lawmakers said that new facilities will be built for these forces.

Some activists are campaigning against the presence of foreign troops, branding them occupiers who threaten national sovereignty.

However, the outcome of the vote is in little doubt with the parliament in Niamey totally dominated by allies of President Mohamed Bazoum.

Niger has the support of several Western countries in its battle against Al-Qaeda and Islamic State-linked jihadists, including the United States and France, which have military bases in the capital and the Agadez region in the north.

According to the government document handed to MPs and seen by AFP, Niger “is virtually surrounded by terrorist groups.”

“Despite the efforts to contain the threat along our borders, the human and economic cost is heavy.”

The situation, it says, requires Niger and other countries to commit to “an effective fight against terrorism, in the framework of bilateral or multilateral cooperation, either current or in the future.”

“The special forces of friendly countries will be deployed … (and) installed on the territories of members of ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) facing the threat.”

These include Benin, Ghana, Niger, and Ivory, the document adds.

US and French special forces are already operational in Niger, which has declared itself ready to host more. But their possible deployment in the other countries has not been officially mentioned previously.

The document says that in Niger, “which already houses foreign troops bases, new sites will be set up nearer the theatres of operation” in Mali, where multiple jihadist groups operate.

“The locations and operational methods” of these forces will be discussed with Niger’s military hierarchy, it says.

France is reconfiguring its anti-jihadist forces in the Sahel after its relationship with Mali broke down following a military coup in August 2020.

Germany, which runs a logistics outpost in Niamey, has set up a center close to the border with Mali to train Nigerien special forces. Italy and Canada are also involved in special forces training.

The poorest country in the world according to the benchmark of the UN’s Human Development Index (HDI), Niger is facing two jihadist insurgencies.

One is unfurling in the southwest of the country, coming from neighboring Mali, while the other is in the southeast, from Nigeria.

Criticism of the presence of foreign forces prompted Bazoum to announce in February that he would ask parliament to agree on any new “arrangements” with foreign partners to tackle the jihadists.

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