Shifts in the US strategy in the Sahel
The ambush that killed four American soldiers in Niger on 4 October has stirred up a public debate in the US. The controversy over the nature of the US intervention in Niger has been fuelled by the US military’s lack of transparency about this operation. Niger is home to the largest US military force in Africa, but this force has typically focused on advise-and-assist missions to support Nigerien troops. From this base, the United States participates in various security and counterterrorism efforts and initiatives in the Sahel, as is the case with Operation Barkhane. However, US intervention efforts have been concentrated in Algeria, Libya, Mali and Nigeria, not in Niger where US interests are not officially threatened. However, the attack on these four US soldiers and the Nigerien patrol, which was initially presented as a reconnaissance mission, proved to be a search for a jihadist leader. This event has highlighted two major developments: the place of Niger in the Sahel security problem, particularly in the three-country zone that includes Burkina Faso and Mali; and the shifts that seem to be happening to the US strategy in the Sahel. With the need to step up the fight against Boko Haram, al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in the region, the United States may increase its presence and abandon the low-profile strategy that it has preferred until recently.