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Analysis: US military mission in Niger in focus after coup



General Abdourahmane Tiani, who was declared as the new head of state of Niger by leaders of a coup, arrives to meet with ministers in Niamey, Niger July 28, 2023. REUTERS/Balima Boureima/File Photo

Last month’s coup in Niger has raised questions over whether the United States can continue the 1,100-strong military presence in the country that officials and analysts say has been key to fighting Islamist militants in the Sahel region.

Over the past decade, U.S. troops have trained Nigerien forces in counterterrorism and operated two military bases, including one that conducts drone missions against Islamic State and an Al Qaeda affiliate in the region.

After ousting President Mohamed Bazoum from office on July 26 and placing him under house arrest, the junta revoked military cooperation agreements with France, which has between 1,000 and 1,500 troops in the country.

So far the United States has not received any request to remove its troops and does not have any indication that it will be forced to do so, said two U.S. officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

But with the West African regional bloc ECOWAS threatening military intervention and Russia’s Wagner mercenary group offering help to the coup leaders – both of which could pose safety risks for U.S. military personnel – U.S. planners could find themselves contemplating a future without a foothold in a part of Africa facing insurgencies and where the U.S. vies with Russia and China for influence.


“Our drone base in Niger is extremely important in countering terrorism in the region,” one of the U.S. officials said. “If that closed down, it would be a huge blow.”


The Biden administration has not formally labeled the military takeover in Niger a coup, a designation that would limit what security assistance Washington can provide the country.

Still, the United States last week paused certain foreign assistance programs for Niger and said on Tuesday that included funding for international military education and training and programs that support Niger’s counterterrorism capabilities. Military training is on hold.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken declined to comment on Tuesday in a BBC interview on the future presence of U.S. troops, who are in Niger with the approval of the ousted government.

The U.S. drone base has grown in importance due to a lack of Western security partners in the region.


Military juntas have come to power through coups in Mali and Burkina Faso – both neighbors of Niger – in recent years. More than 2,000 French troops left Mali last year and a 13,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force is due to shut down by the end of the year after the junta abruptly asked it to leave.

The drone base, known as airbase 201, was built near Agadez in central Niger at a cost of more than $100 million. Since 2018, it has been used to target Islamic State and Al Qaeda affiliate Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM), in the Sahel.

Since the coup, U.S. troops are largely staying on their bases and U.S. military flights, including drones, are being individually approved, according to the U.S. officials.

Cameron Hudson, a former U.S. official who is now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), said he thinks it is likely Washington will try to keep using the drone base irrespective of who was in charge of Niger.

“From a political or from an optics perspective, it’s certainly easier to defend,” said Hudson, explaining that while the cooperation of Niger’s authorities was needed to stay, it helps the U.S. gather intelligence on militant targets across the region and would not directly benefit the junta.


The U.S. may have to reconsider its presence if the members of ECOWAS, who will meet Thursday, decide to intervene militarily. The junta defied an Aug. 6 ECOWAS deadline to reinstate ousted President Mohamed Bazoum.

Terence McCulley, who previously served as U.S. ambassador to Mali, Nigeria and Ivory Coast and is now at the United States Institute of Peace, said that the U.S. military would make a “force protection decision” if conflict erupted, adding that such an intervention was theoretical at this point and he did not expect ECOWAS would stage such an operation rapidly.


Another complicating factor could be any decision by Niger’s coup leaders to seek help from Wagner Group, which the U.S. has designated a transnational criminal organization. Wagner’s chief, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has welcomed the coup in Niger and said his forces were available to restore order.

Wagner mercenaries teamed up with Mali’s junta in 2021 and has about 1,000 fighters in the country, where jihadists control large swathes of the desert north and center.

One of the U.S. officials said if Wagner fighters turn up in Niger it would not automatically mean U.S. forces would have to leave.


The official said a scenario where a few dozen Wagner forces base themselves in Niger’s capital Niamey was unlikely to affect the United States’ military presence.

But if thousands of Wagner fighters spread across the country, including near Agadez, problems could arise because of safety concerns for U.S. personnel.

Regardless, the U.S. will put a high bar for any decision to leave the country.

“The only way this mission ends is if the Nigerien government asks us to leave,” the first U.S. official said. “It’s too important for us to abandon.”






Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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J.D. Vance once compared Trump to Hitler. Now they are running mates



JD Vance speaks during former U.S. president Donald Trump's rally in Youngstown, Ohio, U.S., September 17, 2022. REUTERS/Gaelen Morse/File Photo

Eight years ago, in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election, J.D. Vance was a bitter critic of Donald Trump.

Publicly, he called the Republican presidential candidate an “idiot” and said he was “reprehensible.” Privately, he compared him to Adolf Hitler.

But by the time the former president tapped Vance to be his running mate on Monday, the Ohio native had become one of Trump’s most ardent defenders, standing by his side even when other high-profile Republicans declined to do so.

James David Vance’s transformation – from self-described “never Trumper” to stalwart loyalist – makes him a relatively unusual figure in Trump’s inner circle.

Democrats and even some Republicans have questioned whether Vance, who wrote a bestselling memoir “Hillbilly Elegy” and is now a U.S. senator from Ohio, is driven more by opportunism than ideology.


But Trump, who survived an assassination attempt at a Pennsylvania campaign rally on Saturday, and many of his advisers see his transformation as genuine.

They point out that Vance’s political beliefs – which mix isolationism with economic populism – dovetail with those of Trump, and put both men at odds with the old guard of the Republican Party, where foreign policy hawks and free market evangelists still hold sway.

Republican Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, whom Vance has described as a mentor, told Reuters that Vance shifted his views on Trump because “he saw the successes that President Trump as president brought to the country.”

In particular, Vance’s vocal opposition to U.S. aid for Ukraine in its war with Russia has delighted Trump’s most conservative allies, even as it has upset some Senate colleagues.

“He understands what Trump is running on and, unlike the rest of the Republican Party in Washington, agrees with it,” conservative commentator Tucker Carlson, a vocal Vance supporter, told Reuters.


Vance, 39, was born into an impoverished home in southern Ohio. His pick may help boost the Trump campaign’s Rust Belt bona fides in a race that will be determined by voters in a handful of battleground states, including nearby Pennsylvania and Michigan, though his conservative views may be a turn-off for moderate voters.

“To the extent that he can do anything for the ticket, it would be to recapture being the voice of the American dream,” said David Niven, an associate professor of politics at the University of Cincinnati who has worked as a speechwriter for two Democratic governors, referring to Vance’s rise from poverty to U.S senator and vice presidential candidate.

After serving in the Marine Corps, attending Yale Law School and working as a venture capitalist in San Francisco, Vance rose to national prominence thanks to his 2016 book “Hillbilly Elegy.” In that memoir, he explored the socioeconomic problems confronting his hometown and attempted to explain Trump’s popularity among impoverished white Americans to readers.

He was harshly critical of Trump, both publicly and privately, in 2016 and during the opening stages of his 2017-2021 term.

“I go back and forth between thinking Trump is a cynical asshole like Nixon who wouldn’t be that bad (and might even prove useful) or that he’s America’s Hitler,” he wrote privately to an associate on Facebook in 2016.


When his Hitler comment was first reported, in 2022, a spokesperson did not dispute it, but said it no longer represented Vance’s views.

By the time Vance ran for Senate in 2022, his demonstrations of loyalty – which included downplaying the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol by Trump’s supporters – were sufficient to score the former president’s coveted endorsement. Trump’s support helped put him over the top in a competitive primary.

In media interviews, Vance has said there was no “Eureka” moment that changed his views on Trump. Rather, he gradually realized that his opposition to the former president was rooted in style rather than substance.

For instance, he agreed with Trump’s contentions that free trade had hollowed out middle America by crushing domestic manufacturing and that the nation’s leaders were too quick to get involved in foreign wars.

“I allowed myself to focus so much on the stylistic element of Trump that I completely ignored the way in which he substantively was offering something very different on foreign policy, on trade, on immigration,” Vance told the New York Times in June.


In the same interview, Vance said that he met Trump in 2021 and that the two grew closer during his Senate campaign.

Vance declined to be interviewed by Reuters for this article and his spokesperson declined to comment for it.

The Ohio senator’s detractors see his shift in views as a cynical ploy to ascend the ranks of Republican politics.

“What you see is some really profound opportunism,” said Niven, the politics professor.

One issue where his position appears to have converged with Trump is abortion.


Vance implied in a 2021 interview that victims of rape and incest should be required to carry pregnancies to term, and in November he described a vote by Ohioans to add the right to abortion care to the state’s constitution as a “gut punch.”

This year, he said he supports access to the abortion pill mifepristone, a view that Trump shares.


Before Vance developed a relationship with the former president, he grew close with Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr, according to several people familiar with their relationship.

Vance first caught Trump Jr’s eye when he opposed aid to Ukraine during the Ohio Senate primary in 2022, according to one of those people, a position that put him at odds with the other Republicans in the race.

Vance’s personal relationship with Trump developed for the most part during the Republican presidential primary earlier this year, that person said. Vance’s decision to endorse Trump in January 2023, well before some other vice-presidential hopefuls, served as an important demonstration of loyalty, that person added.


In February 2023, Trump and Vance visited East Palestine, Ohio, the site of a toxic train derailment, a trip that raised Vance’s national profile. They portrayed Democratic President Joe Biden’s decision at the time not to visit the working-class community as a betrayal of middle America.

The White House noted at the time that federal agents were on the scene almost immediately after the derailment, and that visiting a disaster site can distract from local recovery efforts. Biden eventually visited East Palestine roughly a year later, in February 2024.

Behind the scenes, Vance has helped convince wealthy donors to open their wallets to Trump, according to two people with knowledge of Trump’s fundraising operations. Vance, for instance, helped put together a Bay Area fundraiser in June hosted by venture capitalists David Sacks and Chamath Palihapitiya, one of those people said.

Off the campaign trail, some of Trump’s highest-profile allies – including Donald Trump Jr, Carlson, and Steve Bannon – have been delighted by Vance’s brief tenure on Capitol Hill. All of those individuals have legions of conservative followers, and their approval may help drive Republicans to the polls.

Vance’s skepticism of corporate America, support for tariffs, weariness of foreign entanglements and his youth make him a leading voice of a new Republican Party that is more focused on the working class than big business in the eyes of supporters.


“I think that in terms of bringing to the ticket, he can articulate the pain that American families are feeling better than almost anybody else,” said Senator Barrasso.

Vance has been criticized for just copying Trump.

“Vance is an echo to Trump,” said Niven, “not a new voice.”


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Slain bystander in Trump assasination attempt identified



Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. President Donald Trump gestures as he is assisted by the Secret Service after gunfire rang out during a campaign rally at the Butler Farm Show in Butler, Pennsylvania, U.S., July 13, 2024. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Donald Trump survived a weekend assassination attempt days before he is due to accept the formal Republican presidential nomination, in an attack that will further inflame the U.S. political divide and has raised questions about the security failures.

Authorities identified a rally attendee who was shot and killed as Corey Comperatore, 50, of Sarver, Pennsylvania, who Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro told reporters was killed when he dove on top of his family to protect them from the hail of bullets.

“Corey was an avid supporter of the former president, and was so excited to be there last night with him in the community,” Shapiro said, adding, “Political disagreements can never, ever be addressed through violence.”

On Saturday, Trump, 78, had just begun a campaign speech in Butler, Pennsylvania, about 30 miles (50 km) north of Pittsburgh, when shots rang out, hitting the former president’s right ear and streaking his face with blood.

“Fight! Fight! Fight!” Trump mouthed to supporters, pumping his fist, as Secret Service agents rushed him away. His campaign said he was doing well and appeared to have suffered no major injury besides a wound on his upper right ear.


The FBI identified 20-year-old Thomas Matthew Crooks of Bethel Park, Pennsylvania, as the suspect in what it called an attempted assassination. He was a registered Republican, according to state voter records and had made a $15 donation to a Democratic political action committee at the age of 17.

Law enforcement officials told reporters they had not yet identified a motive for the attack. Both Republicans and Democrats will be looking for evidence of Crooks’ political affiliation as they seek to cast the rival party as representing extremism.

The shooting occurred less than four months before the Nov. 5 election, when Trump faces an election rematch with Democratic President Joe Biden. Most opinion polls including those by Reuters/Ipsos show the two locked in a close contest.

The shooting whipsawed the discussion around the presidential campaign, which had recently focused on whether Biden, 81, should drop out following a disastrous June debate performance.

The Biden campaign had been seeking to reset its message, depicting Trump as a danger to democracy for his continued false claims about election fraud but said on Saturday it was suspending its political advertising for now.


Secret Service agents fatally shot the suspect, the agency said, after he opened fire from the roof of a building about 150 yards (140 m) from the stage where Trump was speaking. An AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle used in the shooting was recovered near his body, according to sources.

The firearm was legally purchased by the suspect’s father, ABC and the Wall Street Journal reported, citing sources. Bomb-making materials were found in the suspect’s car, the Associated Press reported, citing sources.

Two other rally attendees were critically wounded, the Secret Service said.

“In this moment, it is more important than ever that we stand United, and show our True Character as Americans, remaining Strong and Determined, and not allowing Evil to Win,” Trump said on his Truth Social service on Sunday.

The Secret Service in a statement denied accusations by some Trump supporters that it had rejected campaign requests for additional security.


“The assertion that a member of the former President’s security team requested additional security resources that the U.S. Secret Service or the Department of Homeland Security rebuffed is absolutely false,” said Secret Service spokesperson Anthony Guglielmi in a statement. “In fact, recently the U.S. Secret Service added protective resources and capabilities to the former President’s security detail.”


Residents of Bethel Park, Pennsylvania, where the alleged shooter lived, expressed shock at the news on Sunday.

“It’s a little crazy to think that somebody that did an assassination attempt is that close, but it just kind of shows the political dynamic that we’re in right now with the craziness on each side,” said Wes Morgan, 42, who added that he rides bikes with his children on the street where the alleged shooter lived. “Bethel Park is a pretty blue-collar type of area. And to think that somebody was that close is a little insane.”

While mass shootings at schools, nightclubs and other public places are a regular feature of American life, the attack was the first shooting of a U.S. president or major party candidate since the 1981 attempted assassination of Republican President Ronald Reagan.

In 2011, Democratic then-Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was seriously wounded in an attack on a gathering of constituents in Arizona. Republican U.S. Representative Steve Scalise was also badly wounded in a politically motivated 2017 attack on a group of Republican representatives practicing for a charity baseball game.


Giffords later founded a leading gun control organization, Scalise has remained a stalwart defender of gun rights.

Americans fear rising political violence, recent Reuters/Ipsos polling shows, with two out of three respondents to a May survey saying they worried violence could follow the election.

Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in an attempt to overturn his election defeat, fueled by his false claims that his loss was the result of widespread fraud. About 140 police officers were injured in the violence, four riot participants died that day, one police officer who responded died the following day and four responding officers later died by suicide.

Trump is due to receive his party’s formal nomination at the Republican National Convention, which kicks off in Milwaukee on Monday.


The shots appeared to come from outside the area secured by the Secret Service, the agency said.

Hours after the attack, the Oversight Committee in the Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives summoned Secret Service Director Kimberly Cheatle to testify at a hearing scheduled for July 22.


Leading Republicans and Democrats quickly condemned the violence, as did foreign leaders.

“There’s no place for this kind of violence in America. We must unite as one nation to condemn it,” Biden said in a statement.

Some of Trump’s Republican allies said they believed the attack was politically motivated.

“For weeks Democrat leaders have been fueling ludicrous hysteria that Donald Trump winning re-election would be the end of democracy in America,” said Scalise, the No. 2 House Republican.

“Clearly we’ve seen far-left lunatics act on violent rhetoric in the past. This incendiary rhetoric must stop.”


Trump began the year facing multiple legal worries, including four separate criminal prosecutions.

He was found guilty in late May of trying to cover up hush money payments to a porn star. But the other three prosecutions he faces — including two for his attempts to overturn his defeat — have been ground to a halt by various factors, including a Supreme Court decision early this month that found him to be partly immune to prosecution.

Trump contends, without evidence, that all four prosecutions have been orchestrated by Biden to try to prevent him from returning to power.


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Morocco’s King Mohammed VI Condemns Attempted Assassination on Trump



Former US President Donald Trump is rushed offstage after a shooting at a rally on July 13 in Butler, Pennsylvania.Photographer: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

King Mohammed VI of Morocco has sent a sympathy and solidarity message to former US President, Donald Trump following an assassination attempt targeted at him.

Trump, also a candidate in the US Presidential election was a target on Saturday while he was addressing his supporters during a campaign rally in Butler, Pennsylvania.

According to a Reuters’ report, law enforcement identified the assailant as 20-year-old Thomas Matthew Crooks from Bethel Park, Pennsylvania.

In this message, His Majesty the King said that he was “shocked and deeply saddened by yesterday’s appalling assassination attempt at the campaign rally in Butler, Pennsylvania.”

King Mohammed VI

The Sovereign said he was relieved to learn that “you are safe,” while expressing His sympathy and solidarity following this heinous attack.


In this message, His Majesty the King strongly condemns political violence and wishes Trump “a speedy recovery so that you may continue to serve your great nation.”

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