Joe Biden Evacuates Niger Embassy — Third of His Tenure — After Pentagon Says No Threat

Supporters of Niger's ruling junta gather at the start of a protest called to fight for th
AP Photo/Sam Mednick

The State Department announced on Wednesday that it would begin evacuating “non-emergency” American personnel from its embassy in Niamey, Niger, where a group calling itself the “National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland” claimed to have overthrown President Mohamed Bazoum last week.

The State Department confirmed on Tuesday that Secretary of State Antony Blinken had spoken to Bazoum over the phone, the third time since the “Council” had broadcast its coup d’etat on national television a week ago on Thursday. Bazoum is believed to be under house arrest in the presidential residence, allowed to make calls to foreign dignitaries but no longer wielding power. The coup last week is the third such attempt against Bazoum since he was elected in 2021.

The announcement that Washington would begin withdrawing staffers from its embassy in Niger comes two days after the Pentagon claimed that no “imminent threat against any U.S. personnel or American citizens” existed in the country. The head of the coup “Council,” former leader of the presidential guard Gen. Abdourahmane Tchiani, has not overtly attacked the United States or expressed any desire to sever diplomatic ties, though he has encouraged outside actors not to intervene on Bazoum’s behalf.

Supporters of the coup have taken the streets by the thousands in the past week to condemn the greater West but have mostly directed their ire at the nation’s former colonizer, France, and expressed support for greater diplomacy with Russia.

Protesters stomp over a sign taken from the French Embassy in Niamey, Niger, during a demonstration that followed a rally in support of Niger’s junta in Niamey on July 30, 2023. (-/AFP via Getty Images)

A flood of pro-Russian coup supporters took the streets of Niamey again on Thursday, but at press time, no reports suggest any attacks on Americans.

People demonstrate in Niger’s capital Niamey to show their support for the coup plotters on August 3, 2023. During the demonstration, slogans against France were shouted and Russian flags were carried. (Djibo Issifou/picture alliance via Getty Images)

It remains unclear at press time what information caused the U.S. government to change its approach to its presence in Niger.

Niamey is the third American embassy to be evacuated since leftist President Joe Biden took office in 2021, following the dramatic evacuation of the embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, after the Taliban’s takeover of the country in August 2021 and the evacuation of the Khartoum, Sudan, embassy in April.

“The Department of State has no higher priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens overseas, including U.S. government personnel serving abroad,” spokesman Matthew Miller said in a statement on Wednesday.

“Given ongoing developments in Niger and out of an abundance of caution, the Department of State is ordering the temporary departure of non-emergency U.S. government personnel and eligible family members from the U.S. Embassy in Niamey.”

“Commercial flight options are limited. We updated our travel advisory to reflect this and informed U.S. citizens that we are only able to provide emergency assistance to U.S. citizens in Niger given our reduced personnel,” Miller emphasized, adding that the embassy would still be conducting “limited, emergency services.”

French soldiers and citizens of European countries are seen outside the Diori Hamani International Airport in Niamey, Niger, on August 2, 2023. (STANISLAS POYET/AFP via Getty Images)

Miller also warned Americans in Niger “to limit unnecessary movements around Niamey.”

In a missive on Tuesday, Miller announced that Blinken had called Bazoum and expressed support.

“We reiterate that the safety and security of President Bazoum and his family are paramount. The United States is dedicated to finding a peaceful resolution that ensures that Niger remains a strong partner in security and development in the region,” Miller said.

The State Department’s concern for Americans in the country followed assurances from Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder on Tuesday that the coup had not resulted in any “imminent” threat to Americans in the country.

“All indications right now that there’s no, you know, imminent threat against any U.S. personnel or American citizens, but again, we continue to encourage American citizens who are in the country to stay in close contact with our embassy there,” Ryder said during his press briefing. “As far as security cooperation, those efforts right now are suspended in light of the situation but certainly we maintain close contact with our Niger military counterparts in the country as the situation continues to unfold.”

Ryder said that the Defense Department had no plans at the time of the conference to evacuate U.S. troops currently stationed in the country, there to aid Niger’s efforts to combat jihadist terrorist organizations in the region. He did note that training programs for the Nigerien armed forces, which issued a statement of support for the coup last week, had been suspended.

“I would say that clearly [this is] a not-normal situation. As I mentioned earlier, no indication right now of any type of imminent threat against U.S. forces in Niger,” Ryder explained:

Largely speaking, our forces are doing due diligence when it comes to force protection and remaining on those bases, although when necessary, environment permitting, they are still engaging and going off-base to engage with our Nigerian [sic] counterparts as necessary.

Coup supporters take to the streets after the army seized power in Niamey, Niger, on July 30, 2023. (Balima Boureima/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

The Biden administration faced intense condemnation for its handling of its first embassy evacuation in Kabul, which occurred after Biden chose to break an agreement with Taliban terror leaders brokered during the previous administration of President Donald Trump that would have seen U.S. troops vacate Afghanistan by May 1, 2021. Biden chose to extend the 20-year war, prompting the Taliban to wage a campaign of conquest that ended with then-President Ashraf Ghani fleeing the country on August 15, 2021.

“We could have done a lot more to help. The administration waited too long,” an anonymous military official told Reuters shortly after the chaotic evacuation of Americans began. “Every decision has come too late and in reaction to events that make the subsequent decision obsolete.”

“[T]his all goes back to the Biden administration choosing a time, August 31, instead of an event-driven timeline that says, hey, when we get our allies and our American citizens out, then we’ll leave,” Rep. Warren Davidson (R-OH) denounced in September 2022, referring to the chaos of the evacuations, exacerbated by a suicide bombing killing over 160 people, including 13 American service members.

“We should have been able to get people out of harm’s way in Afghanistan, fully vet everybody, and then send the people that should be back in the United States back to the United States, and the people that shouldn’t, should have been sent back to Afghanistan,” Davidson lamented.


A transfer case with the remains of Army Staff Sgt. Ryan C. Knauss, 23, of Corryton, Tennessee — one of the 13 members of the U.S. military killed in Afghanistan — is carried off of a military aircraft as President Joe Biden attends the dignified transfer at Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Delaware, on August 29, 2021. (SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

The “National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland” appears, at press time, to be less hostile to America than the Taliban. During his televised speech to declare himself president last week, Tchiani condemned Bazoum for being a poor ally to Niger’s diplomatic partners, apparently including America.

“The current security approach has not made it possible to secure our country despite the heavy sacrifices made by Nigeriens and the appreciable and appreciated support of our external partners,” Tchiani said. America is one of Niger’s most prominent military partners.

Spokesman Amadou Abdramane, who first announced the coup, emphasized in his original message that the coup leaders intended to “respect” Bazoum’s commitments with international actors.

“We reassure the national and international community that the physical and moral integrity of the authorities will be respected, in accordance with the principle of human rights,” Abdramane said.

Some of America’s closest African allies — most prominently Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy — threatened to invade Niger this weekend to oust the coup plotters and reinstall Bazoum. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), led by Nigeria, demanded the coup leaders vacate and restore the democratically elected government within a week from next Sunday.

“In the event the Authority’s demands are not met within one week, take all measures necessary to restore constitutional order in the Republic of Niger. Such measures may include the use of force,” it said in a statement to which Blinken offered his full support.

Supporters of Niger’s ruling junta hold a Russian flag at the start of a protest called to fight for the country’s freedom and push back against foreign interference in Niamey, Niger, on August 3, 2023. (AP Photo/Sam Mednick)

In response, the governments of Burkina Faso and Mali, both also born of recent coups d’etat, threatened to send their troops to defend the Nigerien coup against foreign invasion.

“Any military intervention against Niger would be tantamount to a declaration of war against Burkina Faso and Mali,” the countries said in a joint statement.

The threat appeared to prompt ECOWAS to back off its threat of invasion on Wednesday.

“The military option is the very last option on the table, the last resort, but we have to prepare for the eventuality,” Abdel-Fatau Musah, ECOWAS commissioner for political affairs, peace and security, told reporters that day, according to Al Jazeera. “There is a need to demonstrate that we cannot only bark but can bite.”

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