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France denies reports that Algeria refused access to airspace for Niger military operation

August 22, 2023 at 6:20 pm

Civilians gather to join the Army in front of the stadium as recruitment for a civilian militia force called the Volunteers for the Defense of Niger (VDN) commenced in Niamey, Niger on August 19, 2023 [Balima Boureima – Anadolu Agency]

France has denied reports by Algeria that it refused a French request to fly over Algerian airspace for a military operation in Niger, amid an escalating situation in the Sahel region.

In an Algerian state radio broadcast late yesterday, it was announced that the government refused France access to its airspace for the reported military operation in Niger, the West African nation which was subject to a military coup last month and which has been the centre of recent debates on whether to launch an operation to restore the democratically-elected government there.

The French army has rejected that report, however, denying today that it had asked Algeria to use its airspace, with a source in the army telling the Reuters news agency that “France’s joint defence staff denies making a request to fly over Algerian territory”.

Since the coup in Niger on 26 July, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has been considering launching an operation into the country to restore the democratic government, reportedly saying last week that it had agreed on a secret “D-Day” for the possible operation.

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Such military action would likely be backed and supported by France, particularly amid the Nigerien junta’s cutting off of military ties with Paris and threatening the continued presence of around 1,500 French troops in the country. That comes amid a wave of anti-French sentiment throughout the Sahel region, with Mali and Burkina Faso – which also underwent military coups over the past two years – having already kicked out French forces from their territories.

Despite that escalation and the potential for military action, Paris has not openly said or indicated that it would militarily intervene in Niger, and Algeria has especially been careful in its approach to the issue. Earlier this month, Algerian President, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, voiced concerns on any military action when he stated that an “intervention could ignite the whole Sahel region and Algeria will not use force with its neighbours.”

An anonymous Algerian source reiterated that standpoint this week, telling Reuters that “We are against the coup but we are [also] against a military action that would worsen the situation in Niger and beyond in the Sahel.”

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