Secretary of State Antony Blinken, speaking in Niamey, promised to expand American aid to the violence-torn Sahel beyond security, positioning the United States as a more reliable ally in the region than Russia, which has been actively expanding its presence there.


Speaking on the highest-level US official visit to Niger to date, Blinken urged abandoning what has been seen as a military-first approach by the United States and former colonial power France, which ended a contentious nine-year operation in Mali in November.

“We’re in the midst of building something relatively new,” Blinken said in an interview in Niamey, the nation’s capital.
“Security is essential, but it is not sufficient; we need a holistic, comprehensive approach.”
Niger is one of the world’s poorest countries, so the fact that it is succeeding at this strategy speaks volumes about the value of a holistic approach.

BACKGROUND On the highest-level official visit ever by the United States to Niger, Blinken advocated for a shift away from the military-first approach taken by the United States and former colonial power France, which just ended a contentious nine-year operation in Mali.

Blinken announced an additional $150 million in humanitarian aid for Niger, highlighting US support for a program to rehabilitate former extremists and a major US initiative to improve irrigation and climate-resilient agriculture in a country fighting desertification.

Air Base 201 was built in the desert in Niger so that American drones could fly deep into the Sahel, and Blinken admitted that the two countries wanted to strengthen their security ties.

Following its withdrawal from neighboring Mali, France is also reorganizing its long-running anti-jihadist mission, which employs more than a thousand troops.
The African Union is concerned about the increasing number of foreign military bases on the African continent, where China has established its first overseas base in Djibouti.

No one is being forced into these alliances with us. “Countries choose whether or not to be partners,” Blinken said when asked about the drone base. He argued that Niger and other countries would benefit from the effort put into countering terrorist and extremist organizations.

With the end of France’s Operation Barkhane, which began in 2014 to prevent jihadists from sacking the capital Bamako, Blinken’s visit comes as Mali’s orbit sharply swings into Russia’s.

Military putschists in Mali are in power; they have condemned France and sought assistance from Russian operatives (Wagner mercenaries, according to France and others).

Mali was one of only six countries to vote with Russia last month at the United Nations General Assembly against a resolution demanding that Russia withdraw its forces from Ukraine.

Wagner seems to attract misfortune wherever he goes, according to Blinken.

In the places we have observed its operation, it has not bolstered safety. Instead, we’ve seen things get worse, and the resource exploitation, corruption, and violence it brings are a plague on the people of the countries that have opted to work with it.

Wagner, run by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian businessman with ties to the Kremlin, stands accused of human rights violations in the Central African Republic, Libya, Mali, and most recently, the Ukraine conflict.

Ghana claims that Wagner forces are present in military-ruled Burkina Faso, but the junta and Moscow have denied this, and Blinken avoided answering a question about it.
Wagner’s popularity in French-speaking countries,

according to a high-ranking official accompanying Blinken on her trip, was no coincidence, as Russia had fanned post-colonial resentments.

Blinken said he thought the United States and France were on the same page regarding a fresh strategy for West Africa that places a premium on democracy, economic growth, and responsible leadership.

Blinken remarked that “the challenge for everyone” is to demonstrate that “we, France, and our partners” can, in fact, achieve results that benefit the people through their collaboration.

There must be a solution if you are facing such serious insecurity issues. Groups like Wagner will try to take advantage if there is no response to them.