Africa Defense Forum
ADF is a professional military magazine published quarterly by U.S. Africa Command to provide an international forum for African security professionals. ADF covers topics such as counter terrorism strategies, security and defense operations, transnational crime, and all other issues affecting peace, stability, and good governance on the African continent.

Everyday Allies

A Nigerien Colonel Stresses the Importance of Civilian Help in the Fight Against Extremism


Col. Mahamane Laminou Sani is director of military intelligence for the Nigerien Army (forces armées nigériennes — FAN) and is based in Niamey, Niger. He coordinated military and civilian activities at Exercise Flintlock 2014, which was held at four locations throughout Niger. Col. Sani sat down with ADF for a talk on March 1, 2014. The interview was conducted in English, and it has been edited for length and clarity.

ADF: What things have stood out as being some of the high points of Exercise Flintlock 2014?

Sani: Dealing with other countries, interacting and coordinating the planning of the operation. The second thing is just this involvement of the military to help civilians, both in health matters and other activities. And in communication — how we communicate so far, from the beginning to today; that is the most important thing I saw. Many people used to talk about Flintlock as if it were a pretext for creating military bases for the U.S. or Western countries. But now they have found that it’s just a simple exercise.

ADF: The organizers of Flintlock have determined that reaching out to key leaders in various communities is very important. Why was that decision made?

Col. Mahamane Laminou Sani, director of military intelligence for Niger’s Armed Forces, speaks to ADF at the Hotel Gaweye in Niamey, Niger, on March 1, 2014. [SGT. 1ST CLASS JESSICA INIGO / U.S. ARMY]
Col. Mahamane Laminou Sani, director of military intelligence for Niger’s Armed Forces, speaks to ADF at the Hotel Gaweye in Niamey, Niger, on March 1, 2014. [SGT. 1ST CLASS JESSICA INIGO / U.S. ARMY]

Sani: You know, if you want to do something in our society, you have to do it by using those key leaders — opinion leaders, religious leaders, traditional leaders. If you want to relay information, you had better use those people.

ADF: It seems that Niger has been successful in engaging with its northern populations, which also includes a large Tuareg population. How has Niger been able to do that?

Sani: We had a rebellion insurgency in 1990. And again in 2007. When we signed our peace agreement, they asked, “OK, we need to get in charge of our area.” We told them the northern area of Niger is Niger. So all citizens must go there and work; at the same time, you need to come down and work like any other citizen. The key leaders of the rebellion asked to be senior officers. We told them all our officers attended school to get at the level they are now. So, if you want to be an officer, you have to go to school. In 2007 we got a new rebellion because we were a bit tough; we were trying to control our northern area so if a convoy of trucks tries to cross the border, we’ll deal with it. But this rebellion was really well-controlled. We knew all the key leaders and we were able, with our intelligence services, to locate all of them, and we defeated them. There were no negotiations, no peace agreement. In Niger you have our military guys everywhere in the north. And it’s not just a matter of you will be appointed there if you are Tuareg. If you are Tuareg, you should be everywhere in Niger. And any citizen who is in the military or police or whichever institution should be appointed everywhere, even in the north.

ADF: In what specific ways can your military, or any military, work with civilian populations to combat terrorism?

Sani: Terrorism is a transnational threat. A single country cannot deal with terrorism. You need to play with other partners to cope with it. That’s the first thing. So I can take one example from Niger. If we chase or pursue a group of terrorists down to cross the border to enter Mali, we need to coordinate with the Malian military to intercept them. And in the civilian area, at the border of Mali and Niger, we have the same population and most important, they are in the same families. You can see people from Tahoua, near the border of Mali, cross the border to see their relatives in Mali. So if you interact with the population by using these key leaders in the area, they can relay the information. And most of the key leaders in Niger, they are related to key leaders in Mali. The military should try to reduce the vulnerability of our population. They need medicine, they need some infrastructure, because sometimes the pretext used by terrorists is like, “You see, that government is not doing anything for you. So we are here for God, and we can help you — we are all Muslims. So please, don’t mind the government. We will help you.” So they keep recruiting people and they are vulnerable because they are in need. So if we solve this kind of situation, we can reduce the vulnerability of those people so that they can keep them from terrorist activities.

ADF: How would you assess Niger’s effectiveness at engaging its civilian population to fight terrorism? Where are you now, and how far do you have to go to get to a satisfactory level?

Sani: If you take the issue of terrorism, you have two lines. The first line is the violence line. The second line is the will, the belief. Usually, people think that if you lower the violence line, you win. The most important thing is to decrease this belief — the will line. If you lower it, it’s easy to finish with the violence line. In the past, most of our citizens were not aware of what terrorism is. They would see something on TV that’s happening somewhere else.

It seems when the attacks of Agadez and Arlit occurred, people realized that terrorism is a serious issue. In the past, only security guys were in charge and were aware of the reality of terrorism. But now, people are really aware, the citizens are really aware of it. And with Flintlock, we succeeded in involving both security guys and civilians, and the involvement of the people has now increased.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Two suicide bombings hit the military base in Agadez and a uranium mine in Arlit in May 2013, killing 21 Soldiers. The Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa claimed responsibility.]

ADF: So it actually took the terrorist attack in Agadez and Arlit to make people stand up and take notice of the problem?

Sani: They had awareness about the problem in the past but at a lower level. But since the attack in Agadez and Arlit, people knew that it was a serious matter.

ADF: And it spurred them to action.

Sani: Yes, yes. I used to tell them that if you see a bomb attack somewhere else, it can happen here. It was like, “Oh, you are crazy; how can it happen here?” But it happened.  

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