West African army commanders were scheduled to hold their second and last day of discussions in Ghana’s capital Accra on Friday, where they have been working out the logistics of a possible military intervention in Niger if diplomacy fails to overturn a military coup.
Military officers removed Nigerien President Mohamed Bazoum on July 26 and have ignored pleas from the UN, West African group ECOWAS, and others to reinstate him, prompting regional countries to ask for the formation of a standby force.
During their two-day meeting, which ends with a closing ceremony from around 1600 GMT, defence chiefs have been discussing logistics and other aspects of a possible deployment, according to the official schedule.
The use of force remains a last resort, but “if everything else fails, the valiant forces of West Africa … are ready to answer to the call of duty,” ECOWAS Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security Abdel-Fatau Musah said at the start of the event on Thursday.
He said most of the bloc’s 15 member states were prepared to participate in the standby force excepting those also under military rule – Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea – and tiny Cape Verde.
Any escalation would further destabilise West Africa’s impoverished Sahel region, which is already battling a decade-old Islamist insurgency.
Niger also has strategic importance beyond West Africa because of its uranium and oil reserves and role as a hub for foreign troops involved in the fight against the insurgents linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State.