The Last Stronghold in the War Zone (II)

Following its failure in Mali, the EU prepares a military deployment in Niger. Until now, its president cooperated closely with the West, now Moscow’s influence grows also in his country.

BERLIN/NIAMEY (Own report) – Following the total failure in Mali, the EU is now preparing a military operation in neighboring Niger. The decision on the deployment, recently announced by EU Foreign Affairs Commissioner Josep Borrell, could already be made during the EU Foreign Ministers meeting in two weeks. Unlike Mali, whose cooperation with Russia is steadily growing, and Burkina Faso, which is also orienting more toward Moscow, Niger’s government, until now, loyally cooperated with the West. It already hosts numerous western troops, including a US base for drones and a Bundeswehr airlift base. Borrell had described the planned deployment as a “partnership mission” – acknowledging “that we have to be working with the Nigerian army on an equal basis.” Just recently Borrell had compared Europe to a “garden” and the “rest of the world” to a “jungle,” that the EU had to prevent from invading. As the EU seeks to entrench itself in Niger, that country, for its part, is beginning to open up to Russian influence – as had Mali, Burkina Faso and the Central African Republic before.

Loyal Refugee Repulsion

For years, Niger’s government has been closely cooperating with the western powers. Since 2012, within the framework of its EUCAP Sahel Niger, the EU has been training the Nigerian police with a particular focus on sealing the border – to accomplish the most effective repulsion of refugees. Since 2013, Niger’s police have been supported by the German Association for International Cooperation (GIZ), which, according to its own information, also promotes “the demarcation of national borders and construction of border posts.”[1] During his term in office as the Minister of the Interior (2016 – 2020), the incumbent President Mohamed Bazoum had closely cooperated with the EU, when the latter initiated the construction of refugee camps in Niger, to detain refugees brought back from Libya, to prevent them from continuing their journey toward Europe. Since 2018, Niger has been receiving military hardware from Germany – such as military trucks, surveillance equipment, and thermal imaging cameras – for the purpose of sealing its borders.[2] Bazoum has also continued his close cooperation since entering office as president on April 2, 2021. This distinguishes Niger, not only from Mali, whose government is developing a growing cooperation with Russia, but also from Burkina Faso, which is increasingly orienting itself in Moscow’s direction.

Loyal Garrison

In Niger – considered to be the Sahel’s last western stronghold – western troops are increasingly entrenching themselves. French soldiers are still stationed in that country, even though Opération Barkhane has been phased out. The United States maintains a base for its drones in the north of the country, near Agadez. Back in 2016, the Bundeswehr, in turn, had established an airlift base at the airport in the capital Niamey, which it is still in operation. Since 2018, within the framework of Operation Gazelle, German soldiers have been training Nigerian special forces in the planning and execution of anti-jihadi missions. Since last year, measures have been carried out in Tillia, near the border with northern Mali, where a Nigerian special forces training center was officially inaugurated in July 2021. The center was built with significant support from Germany.[3] So far, around 900 soldiers of the 41st Battalion of Niger’s military have been trained and supplied with modern combat material. Altogether, Berlin has furnished €43 million worth of vehicles, weaponry, and other combat equipment.[4] Of course, Operation Gazelle is due to be terminated at the end of 2022.

From Mali to Niger

In the meantime, the EU is also preparing to regroup its Sahel military presence – from Mali to Niger. Back in mid-April, when the Union halted its training measures within the framework of EUTM Mali, EU Foreign Affairs Commissioner, Josep Borrell, declared “We are not abandoning the Sahel, we will deploy to neighboring countries.”[5] EUTM Mali has now largely been phased out or massively reduced to merely a small residual segment of the troops remaining in Mali, to avoid totally abandoning an EU presence in that country. Ireland, for example, has withdrawn its soldiers from the UN MINUSMA mission, but maintains a minor detachment in the remainder of the EUTM Mali.[6] Regardless of whether a core element will be maintained, Brussels already has plans for a new deployment – in Niger. Following the November 15 EU Defense Ministers Meeting, Borrell announced, that this will be a “small and agile military mission,” that will particularly be working in the field of maintenance and logistics. It will “respond to the needs of the Niger Armed Forces.”[7] Borrell announced that he wants to have a discussion of the plan by December 12 – the next EU Foreign Ministers meeting – where a decision can possibly be taken.

Borrell in the “Jungle”

On November 15, Borrell laid particular emphasis on the fact that the mission in Niger is meant to be a “partnership mission.” The term “partnership” is being expressed for the first time in this connection, because it has been recognized “that we have to be working with the Nigerian army on an equal basis.”[8] This statement not only implies an acknowledgement that all previous EU missions on the African continent, in which the self-evident engagement in cooperation “on an equal basis” with the armed forces of a sovereign country has evidently not been observed. But it is also interesting, because just recently Borrell made international headlines with statements that, particularly beyond the borders of Europe, were criticized as racist. In a public address, the Foreign Affairs Commissioner had compared Europe to a “garden” where “everything works.” “The rest of the world,” on the other hand, as “a jungle,” that could “invade the garden.” “The gardeners should take care of it” admonished Borrell. They “have to go to the jungle. Europeans have to be much more engaged with the rest of the world. Otherwise, the rest of the world will invade us, by different ways and means.”[9]

Russia’s Influence is Growing

While the EU is setting its sights on a new military deployment in Niger, Russia’s influence in that country is also beginning to grow. In September, demands calling for French forces to leave the country were raised at demonstrations in the capital Niamey and in the city of Dosso, in the southwest of the country. At the same time, pro-Russian slogans were heard.[10] Observers note that, in Mali and Burkina Faso, the reorientation toward Moscow began similarly. Following his meeting with the Russian Ambassador in mid-November, Niger’s Defense Minister Alkassoum Indatou was quoted saying, Niger’s prior military cooperation with Russia, which was at rather low intensity, has proven beneficial. Negotiations are now being held on their further development and continuation. The Nigerian armed forces already have Russian military aircraft; in addition, more than a hundred Nigerian officers have been trained in Moscow.[11] Thus closer cooperation with Russia is on the horizon, like it now is appearing in Burkina Faso, has long been reality in Mali, and been firmly established for years in the Central African Republic. The West, on the other hand, finds itself more and more on the defensive.


For more on this subject: The Next Lost War.


[1] Niger.

[2], [3] See also The Last Stronghold in the War Zone.

[4] Peter Carstens: Kampfschwimmer in der Wüste. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 03.11.2022.

[5] Dominic Johnson: Vorerst auf Eis gelegt. 12.04.2022.

[6] Conor Gallagher: Ireland will continue on controversial Mali mission but with reduced troop commitment. 28.11.2022.

[7], [8] Foreign Affairs Council (Defence): Press remarks by High Representative Josep Borrell after the meeting. 15.11.2022.

[9] European Diplomatic Academy: Opening remarks by High Representative Josep Borrell at the inauguration of the pilot programme. 13.10.2022.

[10] „A bas la France”, “Vive Poutine et la Russie” : ces slogans qui se multiplient dans les pays du Sahel. 20.09.2022.

[11] Lassaad Ben Ahmed: Le Niger poursuivra sa cooperation militaire „bénéfique” avec la Russie (Ministre de la Défense). 16.11.2022.