After 9/11, the US built a network of military outposts across the northern tier of Africa to fight a shadow war against Islamist groups, and Niger became central to the effort. From Base Airienne 201, known to locals as ‘Base Americaine’, US drones were sent across the region to track down Islamist terrorists. The coup against President Bazoum marks another disruption in this long-running, mostly secret, war on terror. American troops in Niger are currently confined to their bases. The future of America’s two-decade counterterrorism campaign there is in doubt.
In 2008, about 2,600 US military personnel were deployed in Africa, but today, there are around 6,500 troops and civilian contractors. The US government couldn’t identify even one transnational terror group in sub-Saharan Africa after the Twin Towers attacks but embarked nonetheless on wide-ranging counterterrorism efforts there. Over the years, America has conducted drone strikes in countries like Libya and Somalia, and its commandos have fought in countries including Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Kenya, Libya, Mali, Somalia, and Tunisia. Just over half of the US forces are stationed at Camp Lemonnier, a sprawling base in the tiny nation of Djibouti in the Horn of Africa. More than 1,000 are still deployed in Niger. Personnel rotate in and out of that country like they would in any other war zone.
After two decades of failing to crush terrorism in Africa, the US has quietly admitted that things are going wrong. An assessment last year by one of the Pentagon’s own research institutions couldn’t be grimmer. The number of Islamist terror attacks in the western Sahel (the strip of Africa between the Sahara Desert in the north and the tropical savannas to the south) has quadrupled since 2019, it said, and the violence had ‘expanded in intensity and geographic reach.’ The researchers found fatalities linked to militant Islamist groups in the Sahel jumped from 218