The U.S has no plans to evacuate American citizens from Niger after a coup in the country six days ago, despite efforts from European countries to fly out their nationals, the White House said Tuesday. France and Italy have prepared to evacuate their citizens and other Europeans from Niger following the coup that toppled one of the last pro-Western leaders in Africa's unstable Sahel region.
In the region's third military takeover in as many years, President Mohamed Bazoum was, triggering alarm bells in France, Niger's former colonial power and traditional ally.
The Biden administration is "certainly aware of efforts by France and other European nations to evacuate their citizens. At the same time, we don't have any indications of direct threats to U.S. citizens or to our facilities, so we have not changed our posture with respect to our presence in Niger at this time," National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said on Tuesday.
Kirby said the White House still sees a "window" for diplomacy to resolve the Niger crisis and he said the U.S. was "monitoring it literally by the hour."
"We do continue to urge American citizens that are in Niger to make sure safety is their first priority," he said.
Kirby added that the U.S., which has an important air base and about 1,100 military personnel in Niger, had not made any decision on future U.S security assistance to the country.
CBS News correspondent Elaine Cobbe in Paris said concerns were mounting in the French capital about a propaganda war being waged against France in Niger. The military leaders who seized power in last week's coup have accused France of using its roughly 1,500 troops in the country to try to reinstate Bazoum to power.
France has denied the allegations, stressing that its military presence in the region is to counter ISIS-linked groups, but supporters of the coup staged violent protests at the French embassy in Niger on Sunday in response, prompting France to begin evacuating its nationals. The French foreign ministry said about 600 French nationals were in Niger.
Hostile crowds gathered outside the French embassy, throwing stones and burning French flags.
"In the face of a deteriorating security situation in Niamey and taking advantage of the relative calm in Niamey, an operation of evacuation by air is being prepared," the embassy told French citizens.
The evacuations "will take place very soon in a very limited span of time," it said. The initiative marks the first time that France has staged a large-scale evacuation in its former colonies in the Sahel, where since 2020 there have been coups in Mali and Burkina Faso.
Declan Walsh, chief Africa correspondent for The New York Times, told CBS News that while Russian flags were flown during protests after the coup, "so far there's no evidence to suggest that Russia has any direct hand in this coup, but I think it is a sign of how Russia has very successfully positioned itself as a sort of torch-bearer for anti-Western and anti-France sentiment in many of these former French colonies."
The head of Russia's Wagner mercenary group,, hailed the coup on Saturday as a positive step and said his fighters could help return calm to the country.
Kirby also told reporters Tuesday that the U.S. didn't see any evidence of Russian involvement in the coup.
The German ministry urged "all German nationals" to take up the French evacuation offer. It said that fewer than 100 German civilians were believed to be in Niger.
In Rome, the government said it was putting on a "special flight" for Italians wishing to leave the country. Around 90 Italians are in Niamey, it said, out of nearly 500 across the country.
"It's a coup that took a great many people by surprise, in the country and across the world," the Times' Walsh told CBS News on Monday.
The West African bloc ECOWAS on Sunday slapped sanctions on Niger and warned it may use force as it gave the coup leaders a week to reinstate Bazoum.
The threat is "a measure of the alarm this coup has sparked across the region," according to Walsh, of the New York Times. "It would be very unusual for them to aggressively send in a military force to try and take on a junta. So really, at this point, it's a sign of how alarmed they are."
One of the world's poorest and most unstable countries, Niger is a vast semi-desert nation that had already experienced four coups since gaining independence in 1960.
Bazoum was feted in 2021 after winning elections that ushered in Niger's first-ever peaceful transition of power. But his tenure had been marked by two attempted coups before last week's dramatic events, in which he was detained by members of the elite Presidential Guard.
Guards chief General Abdourahamane Tiani has declared himself leader, but his claim has been rejected internationally, by ECOWAS, the African Union, the U.N., France, the U.S. and the European Union.
The coup has worried Western countries struggling to contain a jihadist insurgency that flared in northern Mali in 2012, advanced into Niger and Burkina Faso three years later and now overshadows fragile states on the Gulf of Guinea.
An unknown number of civilians, troops and police have been killed across the region, many in ruthless massacres, while around 2.2 million people in Burkina Faso alone have fled their homes. The economic damage has been devastating.
France had at one point 5,400 troops fighting in its anti-jihadist mission across the Sahel, supported by fighter jets, helicopters and drones. But that mission was drastically refocussed on Niger last year, when France pulled out of Mali and Burkina Faso after falling out with their juntas.
Today's reconfigured French force is deployed primarily at a major air base near Niamey.
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