Blinken says US must show it can ‘deliver results’ to Sahel | News from politics

A US Secretary of State’s first trip to Niger comes amid a regional security crisis and growing Russian influence.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States and its Western allies must show they “can deliver results” amid the growing influence of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group in Africa’s Sahel region.

During a historic trip to Niger, Blinken said Washington took a “comprehensive” approach that focused on security but also “focused on good governance, development and creating opportunities to respond to people’s needs.”

“I think that’s exactly what makes the difference,” Blinken said during a joint press conference with Nigerien Foreign Minister Hassoumi Massaoudou, contrasting what the Wagner Group could offer the region.

“We’ve already seen it end badly in some places,” Blinken said of the group’s interventions. “Wherever Wagner was present, bad things were inevitable.”

The trip marks the first time a US Secretary of State has visited the country. Earlier in the day, Blinken met with Niger’s President Mohamed Bazoum and announced a number of regional initiatives, including $150 million in new humanitarian aid to the Sahel, bringing the total for the fiscal year to $233 million, according to the US State Department amounts.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken with Niger President Mohamed Bazoum during their meeting at the Presidential Palace in Niamey, Niger [Boureima Hama/AP Photo]Blinken’s trip to Niger follows his visit to the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa earlier this week and is part of a broader pledge by US President Joe Biden’s administration to do better with Africa.

In addition, widespread disillusionment with European involvement in the region has grown, fueled in part by successive military coups in neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso.

When asked about that disillusionment on Thursday, Blinken said, “It behooves us to show, through this much broader approach we’re taking to uncertainty, that we can actually deliver results.”

In 2022, French troops and a French-led European Union force withdrew from Mali, where France first intervened after a rebel movement in the north of the country in 2012. French troops also withdrew from Burkina Faso in February.

The Malian government has increasingly relied on Russia’s Wagner Group to contain violence in its vast central region, which borders Niger and Burkina Faso.

The government of Burkina Faso has reportedly also reached out to Wagner, although it has denied reports that the mercenary group is operating in the country.

Violence has risen sharply in the region in recent years, with a 50 percent increase in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger in 2022 compared to the previous year. Attacks have also reached the more affluent coastal West African countries.

The United Nations Human Rights Council recently called for an independent investigation into allegations of human rights abuses, including torture, sexual violence and enforced disappearances, in joint operations between Malian forces and the Wagner Group.

“We’ve seen countries feel weaker, poorer, more insecure and less independent as a result of being associated with Wagner,” Blinken said Thursday.

“So that’s not a recipe for success that I think everyone should follow.”

“Model of Cooperation”

Blinken also underscored the increasing importance of Niger to US and Western allies concerned about the possible spread of violence beyond the region, where the al-Qaeda-linked Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM) and the Greater Sahara Islamic State, an ISIL (ISIS) affiliate, has been vying for power while fueling communal tensions.

French and EU forces have refocused their operations in Niger, and Western leaders have praised President Bazoum’s approach to addressing widespread insecurity in the country and Niger’s move toward greater democratization.

This came despite widespread challenges in the country of 25 million people, which ranked 189th out of 191 countries on the UN Human Development Index in 2021.

For its part, Washington has for years viewed the Sahel as another front in its decades-long “war on terror” and actively supports European and regional military forces, as well as humanitarian and climate aid.

According to the US military, about 800 US personnel are based in Niger, where they are believed to support two Nigerian air bases, including a newly established drone base in the city of Adagez.

On Thursday, Blinken vowed to deepen ties.

“Coming back to the fact that Niger really is an exceptional model at a time of great challenge — a model of resilience, a model of democracy, a model of cooperation,” Blinken said.

“It’s one that we deeply value and deeply respect.”


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