Niger Coup Forces Embassy Evacuation, But Marines Will Remain

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Supporters of Niger's ruling junta gather at the start of a protest
Supporters of Niger's ruling junta gather at the start of a protest called to fight for the country's freedom and push back against foreign interference in Niamey, Niger, Thursday, Aug. 3, 2023. (AP Photo/Sam Mednick)

Marines guarding the U.S. embassy in Niger will remain in place despite a partial evacuation of nonessential embassy personnel as the country remains gripped by a coup, the State Department said Thursday.

The Pentagon said there has been no change in military posture in the West African country, which was thrown into political turmoil last week, and that the State Department had not requested any assistance with the evacuation.

"We continue to monitor this fluid and evolving situation and reiterate our focus on a diplomatic solution," Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon's top spokesman, said in a statement to the press Thursday morning.

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On Tuesday, Ryder told reporters that U.S. troops would stay in the country despite what appears to be a coup against Niger's democratically elected leader, President Mohamed Bazoum, who was put under house arrest late last week when part of the country's military mutinied.

    A military officer with the group of mutinous troops made a TV broadcast early July 27 to declare a curfew and the closing of the country's borders until the situation stabilizes, The Associated Press reported.

    The next day, coup leaders named Gen. Abdourahmane Tchiani as the new head of state.

    The U.S. military is stationed in Niger to conduct drone surveillance and counter extremism operations. In 2019, the U.S. spent $110 million building a new air base in the country to support drone operations.

    In 2017, Islamic State militants killed four American Army soldiers near a village in northwestern Niger.

    A State Department spokesperson told Military.com on Thursday that the detachment of Marines at the embassy in the capital Niamey "will remain there working with the Diplomatic Security Service to assist with embassy security duties."

    Although the U.S. military -- especially the Marine Corps -- often plays a significant role in the evacuation of civilians from embassies and foreign countries amid crises and unrest, the Pentagon says that, so far, it has not been asked to jump in.

    "The Department of State has not requested DoD personnel or equipment as part of the ordered departure," Ryder said.

    Bazoum was elected president two years ago in the nation's first peaceful, democratic transfer of power since its independence from France in 1960. He has not resigned his office since being detained.

    Ryder told reporters Tuesday that, while the security cooperation between the U.S. and Nigerien military has been suspended, "we maintain close contact with our Niger military counterparts in the country, as the situation continues to unfold" and "when necessary [and] environment permitting," service members are still able to go off base to foster that engagement.

    The State Department ordered the evacuation of non-emergency personnel from the embassy in Niamey on Tuesday evening, citing "ongoing developments in Niger" and "an abundance of caution."

    In its statement, the State Department cautioned U.S. citizens in the country that "commercial flight options are limited" and that only limited emergency services will be available at the embassy going forward.

    In the last embassy evacuation -- of the U.S. embassy in Sudan in April -- the Marine Corps detachment played a key and heroic role.

    Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro said that the detachment of 12 Marines set an example in "protecting the life of the ambassador and the lives of all the people who were at the embassy," calling it "nothing short of extraordinary."

    Del Toro presented each of the Marines with awards for their heroism.

    In late April, about 100 U.S. troops in three MH-47 Chinook helicopters airlifted all of roughly 70 remaining American employees from the Sudanese embassy to Ethiopia, The Associated Press reported at the time.

    -- Konstantin Toropin can be reached at konstantin.toropin@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @ktoropin.

    Related: Pentagon Keeps Troops in Niger Despite Putsch, Maintains Contact with Some Military Leaders

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