‘No Correlation’: Pentagon Distances Itself From US Military-Trained Coup Leaders In Niger

(Photo by -/ORTN - Télé Sahel/AFP via Getty Images)

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Micaela Burrow Investigative Reporter, Defense
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The Pentagon on Thursday sought to distance itself from elements of the Nigerien junta who previously trained or cooperated with the U.S. as recently as July, just before the attempted coup.

One of the key players in the junta that ousted Niger’s democratically-elected president and seized power on July 26 is Brig. Gen. Moussa Salaou Barmou, dismaying U.S. military officials who long considered him an ally in the fight against terrorism, according to The Wall Street Journal. He has since served as a diplomatic conduit between the State Department and the junta leaders, but Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon’s press secretary, rejected any suggestion that Barmou’s decades-long relationship with the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) had any bearing on his recent activities at a briefing Thursday.

“We do know that several Nigerien personnel associated with events there received U.S. training in the past. There is no correlation between that training they received and their activities,” Ryder said. (RELATED: State Dept Team Acknowledged Kabul Airport Was Incapable Of Handling Biden Admin’s Evacuation Plan, Witness Says)

Barmou heads the country’s Special Operations Forces and benefited from elite U.S. training from U.S. Army Green Berets to combat bands of violent jihadists roving the Sahel, according to the WSJ.

Barmou met with U.S. Army Special Operations Command commander Lt. Gen. Jonathan Braga in June to discuss joint security efforts. Photos show Barmou and U.S. Army Special Operations Command, Lt. Gen. Jonathan Braga warmly embracing.

“We have had a very long relationship with the United States,” Barmou said in 2021. “Being able to work together in this capacity is very good for Niger.”

Barmou trained at Fort Benning, Georgia, and studied at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C., The Intercept reported, citing Nigerien sources and a U.S. government official speaking on condition of anonymity.

“Any training we provide, whether through the National Defense University or other exercises, always adheres to the principles of democratic governance, civilian rule of the military, rule of law, military civilian relations, so I’ll just leave it at that,” Ryder said.

“There’s been no force posture change,” he added. Restoring Niger’s “hard-earned” democracy will continue to be America’s focus, he added, deferring questions on the U.S. latest diplomatic initiatives to the State Department.

Until then, the roughly 1,100 U.S. troops supporting counterterror operations in Niger will continue maintaining U.S. bases in the country, although the Pentagon paused most security cooperation with the Nigerien military.

If losing American military assistance “is the price to pay for our sovereignty, then let it be,” Barmou told the WSJ a few days after the coup.

On Thursday, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) said they ordered a “standby force” to maintain alert status if called on to intervene in Niger after the junta spurned their Sunday deadline to reinstate the president, The Associated Press reported.

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