US-backed protégés in Africa ditch their training wheels to stage a coup
By: Rachel Marsden
PARIS — Another group of Pentagon star trainees — this time in Niger — has
taken over the shop, ousting their Western-allied president in a coup. Behold,
your tax dollars at work, America.
“Niger is the largest recipient of State Department military assistance in West Africa and the second highest in Sub-Saharan Africa,” the State Department boasted of its “strategic partnership” with the country in March of this year.
Fast-forward just a few months, and now Secretary of State Antony Blinken is pausing some of that funding, underscoring that “the provision of US assistance to the government of Niger depends on democratic governance and respect for constitutional order.”
Presumably the canceled aid would also include the US taxpayer cash shoveled out the door to the latest coup’s leaders — albeit a bit too late. “The benefit from the joint mortar training event is two-fold – providing Nigerien soldiers with a tangible skill, while also bolstering the partnership between U.S. and Niger forces,” wrote the Pentagon in June 2021 of a joint training exercise.
One of the star Nigerien students cited was Col. Maj. Moussa Salaou Barmou, who ultimately became a brigadier general and the head of the country’s special forces.
“We have had a very long relationship with the United States. Being able to work together in this capacity is very good for Niger,” Barmou said at the time. US Special Operations in Africa Commander Lt. Gen. Jonathan Braga also met with Barmou just a few weeks ago at a U.S. drone base in Niger, according to a Pentagon social media account, complete with photos of the meeting.
Barmou, now identified as one of the coup’s leaders, previously trained at Fort Benning, Georgia, and Washington’s National Defense University, according to The Intercept, and has just been named the army’s chief of staff by the military junta. What could possibly have led Washington to believe that their approach could ultimately backfire? Apparently not the fact that onetime CIA asset Osama bin Laden — who worked with the US against the Soviets in Afghanistan — later used his experience to attack American interests. Or Washington’s training of police in various Latin American countries, as cover for CIA intelligence gathering, that enabled death squads.
Or the fact that five other African countries’ whose soldiers were trained by the US — Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mauritania, and Gambia — have already undergone coups.
So what exactly was the point of the US being in Niger in the first place, beyond hanging out near a wealth of natural resources and pretending not to be interested? Even the most interventionist US senators hadn’t a clue when it emerged in October 2017 that four American special forces had been killed in a jihadist ambush. “I didn’t know there was 1,000 troops in Niger. … They are going to brief us next week as to why they were there and what they were doing,” Sen. Lindsey Graham told NBC’s “Meet the Press” at the time. Officially, US and Western presence in this sub-Saharan region related to counterterrorism and stabilization operations — which were such a resounding success that it has led to a proliferation of coups and to the region being named the global epicenter of terrorism by the Institute of Economics and Peace’s 2023 Global Terrorism Index.
Niger even gets a special mention for its terrorism surge. If a plumber arrived at your home and ended up trashing it under the pretext of fixing your toilet, you might end up coming to the conclusion that either he sucked at his job or else had other motivations.
The post-coup leader of Burkina Faso, 35-year-old army Captain Ibrahim Traoré, provided a glimpse into the rationale behind the power grabs last week while attending a summit of African nations in Russia. “The questions my generation is asking are … how Africa, with so much wealth on our soil, with generous nature, water, sunshine in abundance, is the poorest continent?”
He then asked Russian President Vladimir Putin for Russian know-how to bring nuclear energy to his country, one of the world’s least electrified nations with only a fifth of the country having access to electricity in 2020, according to the International Energy Agency.
Without decent energy and infrastructure, they’ll always be poor, and their Western allies didn’t seem to be in a big hurry to make the transition from bombs to bridges as long as they could still pull the treasure out of the ground to fuel their own needs.
So out go the pro-Western leaders of these countries and in come the backers of a new approach that favors China and Russia for their joint infrastructure, security, and energy capabilities. The end result? Western access to Africa’s critical mineral wealth that drives everything from our consumer to nuclear technology has arguably never been more in jeopardy. And all due to the unforced errors and total lack of foresight of our incompetent leaders.
COPYRIGHT 2023 RACHEL MARSDEN