AnalysesArmed Violence

Niger Experiences Surge In Insurgent Attacks Months After Military Takeover

The Nigerien military has shifted its focus from safeguarding the country to protecting the junta, a development that has left security loopholes for violent extremist groups to exploit. 

Four months after the military coup in Niger, the country remains trapped in a relentless cycle of violence. It recorded 443 military casualties from different terror attacks in the span of about four months, with local press coverage blaming this on the negligence of senior military officers.

This revelation has starkly contradicted the justification for the July 26 coup, revealing a significant disparity between what the putschists claimed was the objective for toppling the civilian government and the result under their leadership. Under the junta, attacks have surpassed the levels witnessed during the previous civilian government. 

The coup leaders cited “the continuing deterioration of the security situation” in the country as one of their motivations for overthrowing the democratically elected government. But while the ousted president Muhammad Bazoum was appreciated for his success in countering insurgency in Niger through both kinetic and non-kinetic approaches, in the aftermath of the junta’s takeover, a surge in violence, predominantly attributed to extremist groups, was observed. 

According to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data (ACLED) Project, the first month of the military rule witnessed a 42 per cent increase in political violence, mostly as a result of terror attacks.

“These developments have contributed to a spike in the lethality of political violence in Niger – which had been continuously decreasing in recent years – to its highest levels since March 2021,” the group said in its regional overview for August. 

“At the beginning of August, analysis of ACLED data contradicted the claim that violence had surged in the immediate lead-up to the coup, as suggested by junta leaders. Notwithstanding, since then the military government in Niger has failed to deliver on its promise to improve stability and security in the country.”

Niger, a country located in West Africa, shares its borders with Nigeria, Burkina Faso, and Mali. These neighbouring nations have been grappling with the menace of jihadi terrorism, which has resulted in the movement of jihadists across their borders into and out of Niger. 

The country borders Lake Chad and is situated in the Sahel region, which are both hotbeds of violent extremism. 

Since the coup, a series of attacks have been carried out by two prominent extremist groups: Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), formerly Islamic State in Greater Sahara (ISGS), and Jama’atu Nusratul Islam Wal Muslmimin (JNIM), which is affiliated with Al-Qaeda. 

The surge in the attacks has shed light on the vulnerabilities that have emerged due to the absence of French troops and lack of coordinated multinational counter-insurgency, leaving a significant gap in Niger’s security backdoor. 

Many devastating attacks have been recorded under the junta. 

A tragic incident unfolded in August in the Boni-Torodi region, resulting in the loss of 17 lives and leaving 29 individuals wounded. On Sept. 28, at least a dozen soldiers were killed by insurgents in Kandadji, near the border with Mali and Burkina Faso.

In the month of October, another terrorist attack near the Mali border claimed the lives of 29 Nigerien soldiers, leaving the nation in a state of profound grief. The magnitude of this tragedy was such that three days of national mourning was declared to honour the fallen soldiers.

Recently on Nov. 20, ISWAP fighters targeted the vehicle of the Niger National Guard near Kalbiri of the Tilleberi region. 

The damaged Nigerien military vehicle targeted by ISWAP. 

In a volatile conflict zone spanning Nigeria, Mali, and Burkina Faso, Niger finds itself grappling with a complex security predicament. 

Meanwhile, the aftermath of the coup in Niger has resulted in a significant strain on the diplomatic ties between the nation and France — its former colonial leader — as anti-French sentiments emerged in West Africa. Consequently, France has taken the decision to withdraw both its ambassador and the military assistance it had extended. 

France has already commenced the withdrawal of its forces from Niger, thereby introducing further complexities to the country’s security landscape. All the French forces are expected to leave the country by the end of this year, following the junta’s demand.

The departure of French forces from Niger has created a gap in the joint endeavours to tackle security challenges in the Sahel. The French military’s presence in the region played a crucial role in providing international support to Sahelian efforts in countering extremist groups. 

The departure has already significantly impacted the joint counter-terrorism efforts, resulting in a decrease in capabilities across various areas such as intelligence-sharing, training programmes, and operational coordination.

A Nigerien journalist who preferred anonymity told HumAngle that the dissemination of military propaganda in Niger has played a significant role in fueling anti-French sentiments within the nation, giving the impression that France plays no role in the country’s counter-insurgency efforts.

This shows a deliberate effort to undermine the influence of the French military after the government sided with Bazoum and demanded the restoration of civilian rule. 

According to the local journalist, “the undeniable impact of France in addressing security concerns in Niger was obvious to those with a comprehensive understanding of the circumstances, regardless of personal sentiments towards France or desires for decolonisation.” 

“The French military’s withdrawal has created a significant vacuum, providing a newfound sense of confidence to jihadist groups and bolstering their effectiveness in executing attacks against both military personnel and civilians within the nation,” he added. 

He highlighted that a significant shift has occurred, with the Nigerien military transitioning from their role of safeguarding the nation to now protecting the junta, resulting in a lack of supervision in other areas and therefore leaving security loopholes for jihadists to exploit. 

Since the beginning of the diplomatic deterioration between Niger and France, analysts had issued a cautionary note, predicting that Niger would inevitably find itself in the current predicament. 

However, according to the journalist, the military rulers disregarded these warnings, while the populace succumbed to a combination of propaganda and anti-French sentiments, thereby losing sight of the impending crisis. 

As it goes, “critics are currently silenced due to the junta’s warning, which could be interpreted as being against the nation of Niger,” he explained. 

Developments since the coup have also affected military relations with Nigeria.

The Niger military recently called back its personnel from Diffa, which shares a border with Nigeria, after withdrawing from the Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF) forces situated there. This decision comes amidst ongoing security concerns and escalating violence in the area. 

The Diffa Region has grappled with a formidable security situation, primarily attributed to the menacing presence of Boko Haram and various other armed factions. 

Through the MNJTF, both the Nigerian and Nigerien governments collaborated with international partners in efforts to tackle the pressing cross-border security concerns. However, the withdrawal has left each of the two countries to face their security concerns alone, leaving them vulnerable to the growing influence of extremist groups.

The Nigerien government has also taken the decision to cease granting access to Nigerian military forces within their borders for counter-terrorism operations. This has posed challenges for troops from both nations, impeding their ability to effectively carry out missions in regions that serve as havens for thousands of refugees.

Worsening relations have caused disruptions in the exchange of crucial information, resources, and personnel. It has also hindered the authorities’ ability to effectively monitor and control the movement of potential threats.

The restriction on cross-border collaboration has also been a challenge to the implementation of a comprehensive regional strategy, which is crucial in effectively addressing the threat posed by transnational terrorist networks.

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Aliyu Dahiru

Aliyu is an Assistant Editor at HumAngle and Head of the Radicalism and Extremism Desk. He has years of experience researching misinformation and influence operations. He is passionate about analysing jihadism in Africa and has published several articles on the topic. His work has been featured in various local and international publications.

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