The United States on Tuesday formally declared that Niger's military staged a coup, cutting off more than $500 million in assistance as it acknowledged the overthrow of a democratic government seen as a key bulwark against Russia.
Niger's military on July 26 toppled and detained the elected president, Mohamed Bazoum, a Western partner in the fight against militia insurgents in the Sahel who had been hailed by President Joe Biden for his democratic credentials.
"Any resumption of US assistance will require action by the National Council for Safeguarding the Homeland to usher in democratic governance in a quick and credible timeframe," State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said, referring to the coup leaders also known by their French acronym CNSP.
The United States, along with West African nations and former colonial power France, had been pressing the military to restore Bazoum but to no avail.
"We're taking this action because over the last two months, we've exhausted all available avenues to preserve the constitutional order in Niger," a senior US official told reporters.
He said that the coup leaders, under their own rules when declaring an emergency, have to restore civilian and democratic rule within 90 to 120 days.
"As time has passed, it's become clear that the CNSP officials we've been dealing with did not want to abide by these constitutional guidelines," the US official said.
Under US law, a formal designation of a coup requires a cutoff in assistance.
Miller said that the United States was ending nearly $200 million that was already suspended.
The United States said it was taking down a $442 million package through the Millennium Challenge Corporation, which supports developing countries that abide by democratic norms, that was meant to improve roads and trade routes for agriculture in one of the world's vulnerable countries.
The United States, however, for now will keep roughly 1,000 troops in Niger. Another US official said that the troops are no longer actively training or assisting Nigerien forces but continue to work to monitor threats from militias.
The United States is also maintaining a major drone base near the central city of Agadez from which the US military has centred anti-militia operations in the Sahel.
The decision comes the same day that the French army began withdrawing troops from Niger after being ordered out by the coup leaders, who also forced out the ambassador.
The US relationship with Niger has been less toxic and the US ambassador, Kathleen FitzGibbon, remains in Niamey.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Niger in March with hopes of championing Bazoum and the democratic example in a region where neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso had earlier experienced military takeovers.
Mali has since become a key partner of Russia and has brought in Wagner, the mercenary force that has been condemned for rights abuses and which briefly staged an uprising inside Russia in June.
The first US official said that Niger has not yet turned to Russia but expected Wagner to seek inroads.
"I'm sure that they would like to try and look for openings in Niger to see if they could take advantage. So far we have not seen any evidence that they have succeeded," he said.
Blinken spoke again by telephone with the detained Bazoum on Monday to voice support for returning him to power.
"The United States calls for the immediate release of all those unjustly detained following the military takeover," Miller said in a statement on Blinken's call.