A Discussion on US Military Presence in Niger with Alice Hunt Friend

by mdillard
Nov 03

Alice Hunt Friend, a senior fellow in the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), was the guest speaker at ALLIES’s weekly meeting on November 1. She spoke about the U.S. military presence in Niger. Ms. Friend spoke about Niger in the context of the ambush that left four U.S. soldiers dead on October 4, 2017. She began with the context of the conflicts in and around Niger and Mali. She explained the variety of terrorist groups in the Sahel, narrowing the discussion to focus on Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Most of the members of AQIM originally came from the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (in French, GSPC), an Algerian faction of the Algerian Civil War in the late 1990s that was considered a terrorist group. GSPC relocated to Mali and Niger and quickly integrated with the local Tuareg tribes through intermarriage and trade. In 2007, they became the basis of AQIM.

This group, and others, threatened the stability of Mali’s government, reaching a crisis point in 2012. France, as the former colonial government in Mali, still had vested security interests in the state and intervened in 2012. Ms. Friend said that this is also when the U.S. military presence in Niger began. As France began its campaign against terrorist groups in Mali, and against the secession of the north, the U.S. established a drone base in Niger to assist surveillance efforts. The U.S. military has maintained a troop presence there to maintain the drone operation, to build an airstrip for another drone base in Northern Niger, and to advise and assist the Nigaer military in its fight against ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and Boko Haram.

Assessing what lay ahead, Ms. Friend noted that AQIM appeared to be extremely locally focused. This group is very closely tied to surrounding Tuareg groups, all of which are generally more interested in overthrowing the current government. Furthermore, AQIM typically has not strayed from the Sahel. Ms. Friend concluded the meeting by responding to questions from students regarding the French intervention in Mali, policy-making in the Sahel, African Union peacekeeping forces, and the U.S. Authorization for the Use of Military Force.

Ms. Friend focuses on civil-military relations and African security issues at CSIS. Currently a doctoral student at American University’s School of International Service, she was the principal director for African affairs in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, where she focused primarily on North and West African counterterrorism policy. She joined the Department of Defense in 2009 as special assistant to the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy and also served as the senior adviser to the Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Strategy, Plans, and Forces.