Niger lawmakers have adopted a bill authorising more European special forces to be sent to assist curb an insurgency throughout the Sahel, despite opposition from several parties who oppose Western military intervention.
President Mohamed Bazoum agreed in February to host special forces from neighboring Mali as France withdraws troops stationed there since 2013 to assist in the fight against Islamist extremists who have since moved from Mali’s desert north.
The bill passed with a resounding majority in Niger’s parliament, clearing the path for more European troops to be deployed but without specifying how many.
Due to deteriorating relations with Mali’s ruling military junta, about 2,400 French troops and 900 special forces in the French-led Takuba force are expected to withdraw in the next months. find out more
There are fears that France’s withdrawal could weaken a long-running struggle in the Sahel, south of the Sahara, against terrorists affiliated to al Qaeda and Islamic State, who have murdered hundreds, displaced millions, and rendered vast swaths of territory ungovernable.
The re-deployment of troops from Mali is still being discussed, with the goal of employing them to protect countries in the Sahel and along the Gulf of Guinea coast.
Coastal states such as Benin, Ghana, and the Ivory Coast, who have been devastated by recent spillover attacks, might potentially host troops if needed.
According to the bill, the deployments will supplement French and other European special troops already stationed along Niger’s border with Mali, bolstering military outposts around the country.
“We need foreign forces for intelligence and aerial support to Nigerien armed forces fighting on the ground,” said leading ruling party member Daouda Mamadou Marte before the debate.
The ruling party holds a majority in parliament, with 135 out of 166 seats. But it has faced staunch resistance by opposition lawmakers and civil society groups weary of a foreign army presence amid growing public anger about France’s military involvement in its former colonies.
With 135 of the 166 seats in parliament, the ruling party has a majority. However, plan has met with fierce criticism from opposition politicians and civil society groups, who are wary of a foreign army presence in the wake of growing public outrage about France’s military participation in former colonies.
In November, protesters in Burkina Faso and Niger blocked a French convoy traveling from the Ivory Coast to Mali. Following the skirmishes in western Niger, at least two individuals were murdered and over a dozen more were injured.
“Sahelian states are able to set up their own protection mechanisms,” he told newsmen.
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