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Blinken: The West has more to offer the Sahel than Russia

NIAMEY: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has vowed to extend support to the violence-torn Sahel beyond security, calling the United States a better partner than Russia, which has expanded its presence in the region.

Speaking to AFP about a US official’s high-level visit to Niger, Blinken called for a departure from what was often seen as a military approach by the United States and former colonial power France that ended a contentious Battle of the Nineteen. Annual operation in Mali in November.

“We’re in the process of building something relatively new,” Blinken said in an interview late Thursday in the capital, Niamey.

“We absolutely need a holistic, comprehensive approach where security is absolutely necessary, but not sufficient.”

“The fact that Niger, which is obviously one of the poorest countries on earth, is doing this so effectively, I think just underscores the importance of this comprehensive approach.”

Blinken announced $150 million in new humanitarian aid to Niger and stressed US support for a program to rehabilitate former extremists, as well as a major US initiative to improve irrigation and climate-resilient agriculture in a country warring against the desertification fights.

However, Blinken acknowledged a desire for security ties with Niger, where the United States has deployed forces and built Air Base 201 in the desert to fly drones deep into the Sahel.

France also maintains more than 1,000 troops as part of a long-standing anti-jihadi mission that will be reconfigured after it withdraws from neighboring Mali.

The African Union has expressed concern over the surge in foreign military presence on the continent, where China also established its first overseas base in Djibouti.

“These partnerships that we have, we don’t force them on anyone. Countries decide whether they want to be partners or not,” Blinken said when asked about the drone base.

“The work we can do to fight terrorist groups — extremist groups — will ultimately benefit others,” he said, as did Niger.

“Bad things usually follow”

Blinken’s visit comes as neighboring Mali slips sharply into Russia’s orbit following the end of France’s Operation Barkhane, which was launched in 2014 to stop jihadists from looting the capital, Bamako.

Mali is ruled by military putschists who have denounced France and turned to Russian agents for help – Wagner mercenaries, France and others say.

Mali was one of just six nations to join Russia at the UN General Assembly last month when they voted against a call for Moscow to withdraw from Ukraine.

“Everywhere Wagner goes, bad things follow,” said Blinken.

“Where we’ve seen it, it hasn’t improved safety. On the contrary, we have actually seen things getting worse and the exploitation of resources, the corruption and the violence it entails are plaguing the people of the countries that have chosen to work with them. ”

Wagner, led by Kremlin-affiliated businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, is accused of abuse in the Central African Republic, Libya, Mali and most recently in the Ukraine war.

Ghana has maintained a Wagner presence in military-ruled Burkina Faso, but both the junta and Moscow have denied the charges, and Blinken did not directly answer a question on the matter.

A senior official who traveled with Blinken said it was no coincidence that Wagner had found success in French-speaking countries and said Russia had stoked post-colonial resentment.

Blinken said he believes the United States and France are united in a new approach to West Africa that emphasizes democracy, development and good governance.

“The challenge for everyone – us, France, our partners – is to show, through our work together, that we can achieve outcomes that benefit people,” said Blinken.

“If you have deep-rooted insecurity issues, there has to be an answer. And when there’s no answer, groups like Wagner will try to step in and take advantage of it.”

Source: Crypto News Deutsch

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