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Niger Insurgencies

The world's poorest nation according to the UN's development rankings for 189 countries, Niger is also struggling with Islamist insurgencies that have spilled over from Mali and Nigeria. According to the 2017 Human Development Report published by UNDP, Niger is the poorest country in the world. The economy of the country depends on the exportation of raw materials such as uranium and oil with prices currently dropping. The country also depends on agriculture which is under increasing pressure due to its population growth (the annual rate of the population growth is about 3,9%) and climate change. In addition, there is a lack of economic opportunities for youth. This situation affects negatively the economic, social and cultural rights in Niger.

With the help of Western resources, Niger has managed to remain stable in a region where state failure and security crises run rife. What is really new is the massive military support by the Western world for the regime of Mahammadou Issoufou in the fight against Boko Haram and the Islamist groups in the west of the country. In recent years, Prwesident Issoufou's campaign for Western support had been extremely successful. The president cleverly exploited the geographical location of his country as a transit area for terrorists, human traffickers, and economic and climate refugees from West Africa. Issoufou was very adept at playing the card of the good ally of the Western world. And the military successes are more or less noticeable," he said. Niger has managed to maintain military control over its immense territory in an extremely difficult security policy environment.

Niger was struck by a triad of conflict, climate change and chronic hunger in 2019. In the shadows of its neighbors, the country carried some of the burden of several conflicts in the Sahel region. In the south, refugees crossed the border from Nigeria fleeing from armed groups and insecurity. In the west, refugees sought protection from violence in Burkina Faso and Mali. Inside Niger, attacks by armed groups, banditry, intercommunal clashes and state military operations forced 440,000 people from their homes in 2019. Food insecurity threatened the lives of over 1.6 million people. Niger was also highly vulnerable to disasters, with some 227,000 people impacted by flooding over the year.

The political situation in Niger was more stable than in neighboring Burkina Faso and Mali. However, the imprisonment of the opposition leader and presidential candidate in November 2019 ignited allegations of an increasingly authoritarian rule. The central Sahel crisis continued in Niger into 2020, with the western Tilaberi region seeing attacks by armed groups and large military operations, and insecurity in Nigeria bringing 23,000 refugees across the border by May 2020.

An investigation into the deaths of more than a hundred people in 2019 put the blame on the country's army. Niger's army was responsible for the disappearance of more than 100 people in the western part of the country in 2019, the country's National Commission on Human Rights said in a new report published on 05 September 2020. Many of those that are missing are feared executed, the watchdog said. The commission said those that disappeared were from the Inates zone in the troubled Tillaberi region. The disappearances occurred after a deadly attack by Islamic extremists on the military post that killed at least 71 soldiers in December 2019.

"There have indeed been executions of unarmed civilians and the mission discovered at least 71 bodies in six mass graves," said Abdoulaye Seydou, the president of the Pan-African Network for Peace, Democracy and Development. The group participated in the probe. "It is elements of the Defense and Security Forces (FDS) which are responsible for these summary and extrajudicial executions," added Seydou, who said those who were killed were attacked with blades and small arms.

Terrorist groups targeted and killed civilians and recruited child soldiers. The government reportedly provided some limited material and logistical support in Niger to a Mali-based militia, the Imghad Tuareg and Allies Self-Defense Group (GATIA), a group that has been reported to recruit and use child soldiers. The government was involved in campaigns against terrorist groups on its borders with Mali, Nigeria, Cameroon, and Chad, and it was wary of increasing terror attacks in Burkina Faso and spillover from insecurity in Libya.

Niger remained active in regional organizations and international bodies, including the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the UN, and TSCTP. Niger is a member of the G-5 Sahel and the Sahel Alliance, and hosts the G-5 Sahel Joint Forces’ Central Sector Command in Niamey. Niger hosted the presidency of the G-5 Sahel for one year, starting in February 2018. Niger also hosts a G-5 Sahel Eastern Sector battalion at Madama, in the country’s extreme northeast. Niger contributes troops to the Multi-National Joint Task Force in the Lake Chad Basin. On a rotational basis, Niger deploys an infantry battalion to the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).

In late 2018, Niger, Burkina Faso, Benin, and Mali began developing a regional counterterrorism strategy to police nature reserves and ungoverned spaces. In April 2018, Niger hosted AFRICOM’s annual multinational FLINTLOCK military exercise, in which it participates annually. The Government of Niger participated in conferences hosted by the GCTF West Africa Region Capacity-Building Working Group and the Criminal Justice and Rule of Law Working Group. Niger also participates in the Sahel Judicial Platform. Niger is a member of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS.

Every 90 days the parliament reviews the state of emergency (SoE) declaration in effect in the Diffa Region and in parts of Tahoua and Tillabery (most recently expanding the SoE to three new parts of Tillabery on November 30 and renewing the SoE in all existing areas on December 17). On 30 November 2018, the council of ministers declared a new SoE in three additional departments of Tillabery (Torodi, Tera, and Say). Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces, although at times individual soldiers and police acted independently of the command structure.

Under the Terrorism Law, individuals detained on suspicion of committing terrorism-related offenses may be detained for 10 days, extendable once for an additional 10 days. This 10-day period begins once suspects reach the Niamey Central Service for the Fight against Terrorism; terror suspects apprehended in the rural Diffa Region may spend days or weeks in custody before officials transport them to Niamey.

There were reports that the government and its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. For example, the armed forces were accused of sometimes executing persons believed to be fighting with extremist groups in both Diffa and Tillabery Regions rather than holding them in detention. There was evidence in Tillabery Region that the government allowed Malian militia groups to operate in Nigerien territory and may have at times collaborated with or provided limited material and logistical support to them. Malian militia groups the Movement for the Salvation of Azawad and GATIA were accused of committing human rights abuses on Nigerien soil, including kidnapping and killing persons believed to be collaborating with extremist groups.

There are indications that security officials were sometimes involved in abusing or harming detainees, especially members of the Fulani minority or those accused of affiliation with Boko Haram or other extremist groups. There were allegations that security forces and local leaders in the Diffa Region would harass or detain citizens they accused of collusion with Boko Haram, forcing the citizens to pay a “ransom” to end the harassment.

Niger Minister of Defense Kalla Mountari said 19 July 2018 that the militant groups associated with Islamic State and al-Qaida pose a serious threat to Niger and could infiltrate the country if preemptive measures are not taken against them by regional powers. Different militant groups operating along the country’s borders are threatening the security of the state and the region. “Certainly, this is an existential threat to us. Even though they may look weak now, terror groups are still strong in some areas [around us] and their stated intention is to establish a caliphate and bring our countries onto their knees,” Mountari said. He added that the threat of militants could also threaten the security of Europe if they manage to establish safe havens in Niger — given the country’s proximity to Libya and the fact that Libya does not have an effective central government to prevent militants from crossing through the country to enter Europe.

Jihadist groups present since the 2012 crisis in Mali exploited local unrest and the weak presence of the state in northern Mali to launch cross-border attacks against the Nigerien army. The 2017 deadly terror attack on a joint U.S.-Nigerien patrol, which was claimed by an Islamic State affiliated group and led to the deaths of four American and several Nigerien soldiers, was a turning point in Niger’s counter-insurgency campaign against militant groups. Senior Nigerien officials say the attack prompted their government to ask the U.S. to speed up the process of arming surveillance drones in the region.

Lake Chad is particularly significant because it is divided among four countries — Niger, Chad, Cameroon and Nigeria — and various terror groups, including the Islamic State in West Africa (ISWAP), have made inroads in the area. Despite direct support from Chadian troops since 2015 and closer collaboration with the Nigerian army, Nigerien forces have been unable to fully secure the border with Nigeria from attacks, including some linked to the Islamic State.

Niger’s efforts to fight terrorism were challenged by a small defense force, budget shortfalls, and continuing instability in Mali, Burkina Faso, Libya, and the Lake Chad Basin. Terrorist groups active along Niger’s border included Boko Haram (BH), ISIS in the Greater Sahara (ISIS-GS), the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant-Libya (ISIL-Libya), ISIS-West Africa (ISIS-WA), Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslim (JNIM), and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO). Terrorist groups benefited from Niger’s long borders and sparsely populated desert regions to move fighters, weapons, and other contraband. Terrorist organizations recruited from border populations with low access to government services and high levels of poverty. In the west, terrorists leveraged citizens’ sense of injustice and a desire for protection stemming from historic farmer-herder violence.

Criminals and extremist groups conducted terrorist attacks in the western regions of Tillabery and Tahoua, with the attacks and security force responses to the attacks together leading to 74 deaths in the first 10 months of 2018, according to data tracked by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Conflict in the Diffa Region during the first 10 months of the year killed an estimated 107 persons. According to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), an organization tracking conflict deaths through media reporting, there were 12 terror-related deaths in the Agadez Region in the north of the country during the first seven months of 2018, 103 terror-related deaths in Tillabery and Tahoua Regions, and 53 in Diffa Region. Numbers varied due to different tracking and sourcing protocols. Of the 168 total fatalities reported by ACLED, 110 appeared to be civilians, with 58 of these civilian fatalities resulting from security force actions.

At least 70 soldiers were killed 11 December 2019 in an attack on a remote military camp in Niger near the border with Mali, the defence ministry confirmed, in the deadliest raid against the Nigerien military in living memory. It was not immediately clear who was responsible for the assault. But Islamist militants with links to the Islamic State group and al Qaeda have mounted increasingly lethal attacks across West Africa’s Sahel region this year despite the commitment of thousands of regional and foreign troops to counter them. The violence has hit Mali and Burkina Faso the hardest, but has also spilled over into Niger, which shares long and porous borders with its two neighbors. The attack struck a base in the western Niger town of Inates, the sources said, in the same area where the Islamic State group’s West African branch killed nearly 50 Nigerien soldiers in two attacks in May and July 2019.

Leaders of the G5 Sahel nations held summit talks in Niamey 15 December 2019, days after the death of 71 Niger soldiers in a jihadist attack, calling for closer cooperation and international support in the battle against the Islamist threat. Burkina Faso President Roch Marc Christian Kabore, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the regional G5 group, called for a minute's silence for the victims of Tuesday's attack at a military camp in Inates, near the Mali border. "These endless attacks carried out by terrorist groups in our region remind us not only of the gravity of the situation, but also the urgency for us to work more closely together," said Kabore. "The terrorist threat against the Sahel countries is getting worse," said Niger's President Mahamadou Issoufou, the host of the summit. The attacks were aimed not just at military targets but increasingly "civilian populations, notably traditional local leaders".

As of 20 February 2020 Niger's defence ministry said "120 terrorists have been neutralised" in the operation in the vast Tillaberi region near the border with Mali and Burkina Faso, adding there had been no losses among Nigerien or French troops. Authorities in the restive Tillaberi region have ramped up security restrictions, closing markets and banning motorbike traffic after attacks by jihadist groups over December and January killed 174 Nigerien soldiers.

Terrorists believed to be affiliated with Boko Haram launched a bloody attack on Toumour, a village in southeastern Niger, right on the border with Nigeria, on the night of 12 December 2020. The attack took place the day that local and regional elections were held. There is a heavy Boko Haram presence in the Lake Chad basin, which extends into Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chad. About 70 militants carried out the attack, which left at least 28 people dead and dozens injured. Between 800 and 1,000 homes were destroyed. The main market was destroyed. The windmills were burned as were several vehicles.

The terrorist attack took place in the midst of Niger’s electoral period. Regional and municipal elections took place on 13 December 2020. It’s strategic. The terrorists want to send a strong signal to neighbouring countries and the international community, to remind them of their presence in the region and show that they are capable of attacking and destroying large villages like Toumour.

In late 2020 there was a surge of terrorist attacks in Niger. Located just across the border from Nigeria, the village of Toumour is home to thousands of refugees who fled Boko Haram violence in Nigeria’s Borno state, which had long been terrorised by the group affiliated with the Islamic State terrorist organisation. There were more than 260,000 displaced persons in the region of Diffa, 30,000 of whom are currently living in Toumour, according to figures from the government body responsible for keeping track of refugees and migrants [the Direction nationale de l’État civil, des migrations et des réfugiés du Niger].

Toumour is a target because the Fula people who live there has always resisted the terrorists. They never wanted to leave because the village is symbolic for the indigenous Fulani community of this area. It is home to the largest traditional Fulani chiefdom. And it is the only large village left in the entire eastern strip of Diffa, along with Bosso and Nguigmi.

Scores of people died in the deadliest suspected jihadist massacre ever to hit Niger, the government said 22 March 2021, underscoring the huge security challenge facing new President Mohamed Bazoum. Government spokesman Zakaria Abdourahamane said 137 people died 21 March 2021 in raids in villages near Niger's border with Mali. "In treating civilian populations systematically as targets now, these armed bandits have gone a step further into horror and brutality," Abdourahamane said in a statement read on public television. The jump in the death toll, which had been given as at least 60 earlier, would make Sunday's attacks the deadliest ever committed by suspected jihadists in Niger. It brings the number of fatalities in the Mali-Niger border region to 236 in just over a week.

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Page last modified: 30-06-2021 11:38:43 ZULU