Avoidable Mess: U.S. to Help Chad After “Important Partner” Withdraws Troops From Niger Following Visa Sanctions

Posted: 3:33 am ET
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On September 24, President Trump announced new security measures that establish minimum requirements for international cooperation to support U.S. visa and immigration vetting and new visa restrictions for eight countries, including Chad. See Trump Announces New Visa Restrictions For Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela, Yemen, Somalia:.

Chad – Although it is an important partner, especially in the fight against terrorists, the government in Chad does not adequately share public-safety and terrorism-related information, and several terrorist groups are active within Chad or in the surrounding region, including elements of Boko Haram, ISIS-West Africa, and al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb. Accordingly, the entry into the United States of nationals of Chad, as immigrants, and as nonimmigrants on business (B-1), tourist (B-2), and business/tourist (B-1/B-2) visas, is suspended.

Via BuzzFeed: Experts from the State Department to humanitarian organizations were stunned when the Chad was added to the travel ban in late September. The country is home to a US military facility and just hosted an annual 20-nation military exercise with the US military’s Africa Command to strengthen local forces to fight extremist insurgents. Chad’s capital, N’Djamena, is the headquarters of the five-country Multinational Joint Task Force battling Boko Haram.

What kind of visa numbers do we have for Chad? For temporary nonimmigrant visas the last five fiscal years, see below via travel.state.gov:

FY2016: 1,355 | FY2015: 1,352 | FY2014: 1,294 |  FY2013: 731 |  FY2012: 624

So given Chad’s counterterrorism cooperation, and the carved out already given to Iraq in the September 24 order, why was Chad included in the visa restrictions?  FP proposes this:

One possible explanation for this discrepancy, which would be preposterous in any administration except this one, is that the architects of the ban, having repeatedly heard the phrases “Boko Haram” and “Lake Chad” in the same sentence, assumed that Chad must be the epicenter of Boko Haram. (Lake Chad in fact lies on the border of Chad and three other countries, and Boko Haram is mostly confined to northern Nigeria, northern Cameroon, and southeastern Niger.)
[…]
In the wake of the new travel ban announcement on Sept. 24, Chad has withdrawn hundreds of troops from neighboring Niger, where up to 2,000 of its soldiers were part of a coalition battling Boko Haram. The Chadian government has not yet offered an official explanation for the pullout, but Communications Minister Madeleine Alingué condemned Chad’s inclusion on the travel ban, saying that it “seriously undermines” the “good relations between the two countries, notably in the fight against terrorism.”
[…]
The Chadian president is likely betting that with his forces withdrawn from Niger, the Trump administration will quickly come to appreciate his country’s security contributions and remove it from the list.

But it turns out — Chad had simply run out of passport paper!

AP’s Josh Lederman writes that Chad lacked the passport paper and offered to furnish the U.S. with a pre-existing sample of the same type of passport, but it was not enough to persuade DHS.  A congressional official told the AP that DHS working with the White House “pushed Chad onto the list without significant input from the State Department or the Defense Department.” 

Without significant input from agencies with people on the ground in Chad. If we were in Chad’s shoes, wouldn’t we do exactly the same? Obviously, being called an “important partner” does not make up for having your citizens banned from traveling to the other country. The action telegraphed careless disregard of the relationship, and Chad most likely, will not forget this easily. “Remember that time when the U.S. put Chad on the visa sanctions list while we have 2,000 soldiers fighting in Niger?” Yep, they’ll remember. We actually would like to know who among the local contacts showed up for the new embassy dedication, by the way (see @StateDept Dedicates New $225M U.S. Embassy in N’Djamena, Chad).

The DHS/WH architects of these visa bans/sanctions really are the best people with the best brains, hey?

Federal court has now issued a TRO for the latest travel restrictions that includes Chad. So basically, a carefully constructed bilateral relationship ends up in a mess, and it was all for nothing.

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US Embassy N’Djamena Imposes Travel Restrictions on Embassy Staff After Suicide Bombings in Chad

Posted: 2:40 am  EDT
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On June 15, the U.S. Embassy in Chad temporarily closed to the public due to reported explosions in the capital city.  All American citizens and their families were advised to shelter in place and not to travel around town.

 

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Late Monday, Embassy  N’Djamena released the following security message informing American citizens in the country of travel restrictions imposed on embassy personnel following the suicide attacks in the capital city:

Security Message for U.S. Citizens: U.S. Embassy Travel Restrictions and Security Review – June 15, 2015

Due to the bombings in N’Djamena on Monday, June 15, U.S. Embassy personnel are required to travel in armored vehicles and are restricted from traveling after dark to public places such as bars, restaurants, and markets. U.S. citizens are encouraged to review the Travel Warning for Chad, and to remain alert for potentially dangerous situations. U.S. citizens should avoid locations frequented by foreigners, including shops, restaurants, bars, and places of worship.

U.S. citizens are reminded to exercise caution throughout the country, and maintain vigilance in daily affairs, even when visiting familiar locations.

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US Embassy Niger: Schools Attended by Official American Dependents Get Armed Guards

Posted: 12:58  am EDT
Updated: 1:49 pm EDT message updated by US Embassy Niamey
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The U.S. Embassy in Niamey released a Security Message on March 19 informing American citizens in Niger of the change in embassy school policy:

The U.S. Embassy informs U.S. citizens that, due to ongoing security concerns, schools attended by officials of U.S. citizens now require the presence of armed guards.

The U.S. Embassy informs U.S. citizens that, due to ongoing security concerns, schools attended by children of official U.S. citizens now require the presence of armed guards. (updated)

The U.S. Embassy reminds U.S. citizens in Niger to exercise caution, maintain a high level of vigilance, take appropriate steps to increase security awareness, and pay attention to your surroundings at all times.

The Embassy reminds U.S. citizens of the importance of taking precautions that can help you avoid being a target. Please follow these good personal security practices:

Avoid crowds or large gatherings when traveling in public;

Reduce exposure to places where Westerners frequently congregate, such as hotels, restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and grocery stores;

Know where you are going and have an exit plan in the event you encounter demonstrations or violence;

Tell family member, co-workers, or neighbors where you’re going and when you intend to return;

Minimize your profile while in public;

Follow the instructions of local authorities;

Be prepared to postpone or cancel activities for personal safety concerns;

Always carry a cell phone and make sure you have emergency numbers pre-programmed into your phone such as the U.S. Embassy number tel. (227) 20-72-26-61 and the after-hours emergency number, (227) 20-72-31-41.

Niger Map from CIA World Fact Book

Niger Map from CIA World Fact Book

According to the 2014 Crime and Safety report, Niger is rated by the Department of State as High for terrorism and for crime.

  • Its central location and the vast, open Sahara and Sahel Deserts make the transit of terrorists, criminals, weapons, migrants, contraband, and illegal drugs possible.
  • Due to safety and security concerns, the Peace Corps ceased its operations in Niger in January 2011.
  • Embassy Travel Policy (applicable to all U.S. government executive branch travelers under Chief of Mission authority) requires that all travel north of Niamey and east of Zinder be accompanied by an armed security escort, with guards at hotels for overnight stays.

Excerpt from the Crime and Safety Report:

There has been an overall decrease in residential robberies in Niamey. Home invasions and residential robberies occur primarily after dark and can be violent. There have been several incidents in which assailants attacked the residential guard or the occupants of the residence. While thieves typically choose to rob homes that have no residential guard and/or visible residential security measures, there have been several incidents in which assailants attacked the residential guard or the occupants of the residence, including some diplomat and NGO residences. There was an incident at an Embassy residence by a violent individual; the Embassy guard on duty physically protected the residence from intrusion. In addition, there have been numerous cases of commercial and NGO office robberies.

Niger is rated high for terrorism. Niger has experienced terrorism firsthand, mainly in the form of kidnapping-for-ransom (KFR) operations and clashes between the Nigerien military and al-Qai’da in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) or other terrorist groups in the north. The January 2013 French military intervention in Mali against AQIM and its allies caused terrorist elements to threaten reprisals against countries — including Niger – that participated. In May 2013, AQIM-related forces led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar executed simultaneous suicide attacks with Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Devices (VBIED) and dismounted gunmen on a Nigerien military camp in Agadez and a French-owned uranium mine in Arlit.

Boko Haram (BH) has an increasing presence; the group is from northern Nigeria, where the population – mostly Hausa and Kanuri – is essentially identical to that on the Nigerien side of the border. In Nigeria, Boko Haram has attacked government forces, slaughtered civilians, and kidnapped foreigners. Niger, whose population is majority Hausa, has experienced an increase in extremist rhetoric in the south (specifically Diffa), and Boko Haram members have been arrested in Niger.

According to the March 8 update at state.gov, Embassy Niamey is a 30% hardship differential post with zero COLA and zero danger pay.

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