The U.S. government is considering evacuating most of its Embassy personnel from Niger as the country experiences a military coup. While a final decision has not been made, a U.S. diplomat stated that the decision is imminent. Niger, a West African country that recently transitioned to democracy and receives significant U.S. security aid, poses a challenge for the Biden administration in terms of how to respond. The administration is hesitant to formally declare the events a coup, as doing so could jeopardize counterterrorism efforts and potentially allow Russia to increase its influence in Africa.
European militaries, including the French armed forces, have already started evacuating foreign nationals from Niger due to concerns that the ruling junta may take foreigners hostage and use them as human shields. If the U.S. does decide to evacuate, it would involve most embassy personnel, excluding those key to critical embassy functions. The U.S. Agency for International Development has already evacuated 20 staff members, and the embassy has released a contact form for private American citizens who may need assistance leaving the country.
Robert Stryk, who operates a firm that extracts Americans in danger overseas, confirmed that he has been contacted by senior U.S. government officials regarding the possibility of evacuating U.S. citizens from Niger. He has been in touch with the French, British, and Italian governments and is making plans to transport U.S. officials to a nearby safe location. However, it is uncertain whether American diplomats and other staff members can leave Niger privately without government permission.
While the situation in the capital city, Niamey, is currently stable, protests are expected, and there are reports that the deputy head of the military junta is seeking support from the Russian-backed mercenary group Wagner in Mali. The involvement of Wagner forces in Niger would complicate matters for the U.S. military, as Pentagon officials have expressed concerns about the group's activities in other West African nations.
As of now, there is no "imminent threat" to U.S. personnel or American citizens in Niger, according to the Pentagon spokesperson. The U.S. military has 1,100 troops stationed in Niger primarily for training and advising the Nigerien armed forces, but their mission has been largely suspended since the coup attempt. The Pentagon continues to monitor the situation closely and advises American citizens in the country to stay in contact with the U.S. embassy. The State Department states that they are constantly reassessing the situation to ensure the safety of U.S. citizens.