West African defense chiefs have drawn up a plan for a possible military intervention in Niger if that country’s military coup is not reversed by a Sunday deadline and President Mohamed Bazoum is not released and reinstated.
"All the elements that will go into any eventual intervention have been worked out here, including the resources needed, the how and when we are going to deploy the force," Abdel-Fatau Musah, Economic Community of West African States commissioner for political affairs, peace and security, said Friday.
Several ECOWAS military chiefs convened from Wednesday to Friday in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, to discuss the political crisis in neighboring Niger. A separate diplomatic delegation that arrived in Niger's capital, Niamey, on Thursday ended up leaving without meeting junta chief General Abdourahamane Tchiani or Bazoum.
The leaders of the attempted coup have shown no sign of backing down, warning that the ECOWAS threat of force would be met with force. The warning came with an exception to "suspended friendly countries" — a reference to Burkina Faso and Mali, two countries that have fallen to military coups in recent years.
Late Thursday, junta spokesperson Amadou Abdramane read a decision on national television ending bilateral military agreements with France, Niger’s former colonial ruler. France has about 1,500 soldiers in the country focused on counterterror operations.
Abdramane also announced the dismissal of the Bazoum government’s ambassadors to France, the United States, Togo and neighboring Nigeria, which is leading dialogue efforts by ECOWAS.
The coup has been widely condemned by the African Union, Western governments and the United Nations. U.S. President Joe Biden called Thursday for Bazoum's immediate release, adding that Niger is "facing a grave challenge to its democracy."
The U.S. paused some aid programs that benefited the government of Niger, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday in a statement. But he said humanitarian and food aid would continue.
"As we have made clear since the outset of this situation, the provision of U.S. assistance to the government of Niger depends on democratic governance and respect for constitutional order," Blinken said in the statement.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield told VOA on Friday that the coup was “an unacceptable action by the military, and we have to work together with the region to try to push back on this.”
She said the U.S. was in the process of “removing some American citizens in an ordered departure” from Niger.
“But our embassy remains open,” she added. “Our diplomatic contacts with the various parties, including with President Bazoum, continue in Niger.”
Bazoum, who has been under house arrest with his family since July 26, described himself in a Washington Post column Thursday as a “hostage,” and warned that if the mutiny proved successful, "it will have devastating consequences for our country, our region and the entire world."
He called on "the U.S. government and the entire international community to help us restore our constitutional order."
On Monday, Tchiani, the former head of Niger's presidential guard, declared himself the new leader, saying the move was necessary because of insecurity in the country caused by an Islamist insurgency.
But violent incidents in Niger actually decreased by almost 40% in the first six months of 2023 compared with the previous six months, according to data published Thursday by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project.
The project is a crisis-monitoring group in the United States. Its data also indicate that insecurity in Niger was improving because of strategies of Bazoum's government and assistance from French and U.S. forces. The United States has about 1,100 military personnel in Niger.
U.N. Correspondent Margaret Besheer contributed to this report. Some information came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.