The Intercept has verified that Brig. Gen. Moussa Salaou Barmou, the head of Niger’s Special Operations Forces and a key figure in the unfolding coup in Niger, received training from the U.S. military. Since 2008, military officers trained by the United States have been involved in 11 coups in West Africa.
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In 2021, Barmou stated, “We have had a longstanding relationship with the United States,” expressing the positive nature of their collaboration. Recently, Barmou held a meeting with Lt. Gen. Jonathan Braga, the leader of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, at Air Base 201 in Agadez, Nigeria. This base serves as a crucial hub for a network of U.S. outposts in West Africa.
On Wednesday, Barmou, who received training at Fort Benning, Georgia, and the National Defense University in Washington, joined a junta that overthrew Niger’s democratically elected president, Mohamed Bazoum, as reported by sources from Niger and an anonymous U.S. government official.
An anonymous U.S. official, who is closely monitoring the coup, confirmed Barmou’s affiliation with the U.S. military and suggested that he may not be the only one. The official stated that there is a possibility of discovering other junta members who have had connections and engagements with the U.S. in their past. Various U.S. government agencies are currently investigating this matter.
Since 2012, officers trained by the U.S. have been implicated in at least six coups in neighboring Burkina Faso and Mali. Moreover, they have played roles in recent upheavals in Gambia (2014), Guinea (2021), Mauritania (2008), and Niger (2023).
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“We train to standards — the laws of war and democratic standards,” said the U.S. official. “These are foreign military personnel. We can’t control what they do. We have no way to stop them.”
On Wednesday, members of Niger’s Presidential Guard surrounded the president’s palace in Niamey and took President Bazoum hostage. The Nigerien presidency, on the platform formerly known as Twitter, assured that Bazoum and his family were safe. Bazoum’s personal page conveyed a message stating that the hard-won achievements would be protected, with the support of all democracy and freedom-loving Nigeriens. However, both accounts have remained silent for the past 12 hours.
Identifying themselves as the National Council for the Safeguarding of the Country, Barmou and eight other high-ranking officers appeared on Nigerien state television shortly after detaining Bazoum. They cited the deteriorating security situation and poor governance as reasons for putting an end to the regime, according to their spokesperson.
The United States has invested over $500 million (read below) in Niger since 2012, establishing one of the most significant security assistance programs in sub-Saharan Africa. A report by the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, a U.S. Defense Department research institution, highlighted a drastic increase in terrorist attacks, with 2,737 reported last year in Burkina Faso, Mali, and western Niger, compared to just nine in 2002 and 2003 across the continent.
U.S. troops have actively trained, advised, and supported Nigerien counterparts and have made significant sacrifices, with the number of U.S. military personnel deployed to Niger rising from 100 to 1,016 over the last decade. This presence has led to the proliferation of U.S. outposts in Niger. Recently, Barmou and Braga engaged in discussions to address anti-terrorism policy and tactics in the region, highlighting the importance of the U.S. partnership with Niger’s army, particularly its commandos, in countering militants.
However, experts argue that the heavy emphasis on counterterrorism may be contributing to the challenges in the region, as it leaves other crucial issues unaddressed.
“The major issues fueling conflict in Niger and the Sahel are not military in nature — they stem from people’s frustration with poverty, the legacy of colonialism, elite corruption, and political and ethnic tensions and injustices. Yet rather than address these issues, the U.S. government has prioritized sending weapons and funding and training the region’s militaries to wage their own wars on terror,” said Stephanie Savell, co-director of the Costs of War Project at Brown University, and an expert on U.S. military efforts in West Africa. “One of the hugely negative consequences has been to empower the region’s security forces at the expense of other government institutions, and this is surely one factor in the slate of coups we’ve seen in Niger, Burkina Faso, and elsewhere in recent years.”
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