Unpacking Niger’s Counter-Terrorism Tactics: The Role of Dialogue

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On 10 February 2022, Niger mourned one of its deadliest attacks when gunmen with presumed links to violent extremist masses ambushed a military convoy in Banibangou, a neighborhood in the Tillabéri region. Seventeen soldiers were killed, and 13 were wounded, ending months of comparative calm in the area.

Violence had declined as a result of two special operations executed in northern Tillabéri between July and October 2022 by Niger with support from 250 French troops. It codenamed Almahaou and Niya, the offensives targeted parties linked to al-Qaeda and Islamic State. The February episode highlights the limits of such operations and lends confidence to the country’s use of dialogue as a critical part of its counter-terrorism strategy.

In early 2022, Nigerien authorities recognized the necessity for dialogue with jihadist commanders in Tillabéri. This was motivated after several Nigeriens defected from their extremist groups, and brutality in the Diffa region decreased after a demilitarization and reintegration process was established in 2016. A total of 386 ex-Boko Haram fighters went through deradicalization and professional training.

The use of dialogue in Tillabéri offers strong political will on the part of the government, which is willing to disincentivize engagement with extremist companies and stabilize the region. Niger’s approach, which incorporates dialogue and military action, starkly differs from the regional trend. Neighboring countries have strengthened their military tactics through diversifying strategic alliances and operating armed civilians.

Niger has a long practice of dialogue following its successful management of Tuareg rebellions. The country has sought to institutionalize this tradition to permit a more holistic approach to handling security challenges. A core step has been showing the High Authority for the Consolidation of Peace, established within the Presidency—further the National Coordination Unit for Stabilisation and Disengagement Programmes headed by the Interior Ministry.

To control recruitment by terrorist groups, the government created talks in 2022 to foster intra- and inter-communal dialogue for stability, reconciliation, and social cohesion in various regions. These were observed by community mediation actions, which led to the signing of a peace arrangement between the Fulani and Zarma residents in Banibangou on 21 January 2023. The deal was important, as jihadist groups exploited decades-long conflicts between the two communities for recruitment purposes.

To create consensus around the process, President Mohamed Bazoum has applied a range of political, religious, and civil society leaders, as well as safety and administrative officials.

To thrive, Niger should embrace a more inclusive approach involving different influential actors. Better coordination between the associations involved is also essential to bypass the dispersion of efforts. The government should guarantee that the dialogue process is not bogged down and that lessons learned through the disarmament, demobilization, repatriation, reintegration, and resettlement process in Diffa are declared. This will minimize the danger of recruitment by jihadist groups, including ex-combatants.

By including discussion in its counter-terrorism efforts, Niger is experimenting with an approach analogous to those in Algeria and Mauritania, which underlie their decade-long defense against jihadist violence.

Niger’s neighbors in the Sahel and the Gulf of Guinea that are influenced by violent extremism should take motivation from the country’s strategy as they embark on the insecurity afflicting their populations. A coordinated regional technique would also wield pressure on terrorist groups and eventually deprive them of human resources.

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