Russia’s lies helped persuade Niger to eject US troops, AFRICOM says

by Braxton Taylor

Why did Niger, a country the United States considered a safe ally in Africa just last year, suddenly elect to kick the U.S. military out of the country following a coup? Russian disinformation efforts in the region played a huge role, according to Gen. Michael Langley, the head of U.S. Africa Command.

“The Russian Federation had their playbook. They had their passing game through their disinformation,” he told the House Armed Services Committee on Thursday. “That’s why I have asked for more capabilities in the State Department from their Global Engagement Center and also in our information operations in the military.”

One example of just how quick and aggressive Russian disinformation actors are in the region: last April, Russian mercenaries with the Wagner Group buried several bodies near a base French forces had just occupied—so the Russians could launch a social media campaign that blamed French forces. 

“That’s how savvy they are,” Langley said. “We do need to engage with other countries to increase their partnership and capacity. We need to take the disinformation campaign, we need to hit it front and center,” he said. 

The U.S. State Department’s Global Engagement Center, or GEC, has a $61 million budget, which is relatively modest compared to the more than $1.5 billion Russia spends on global information campaigns each year. And the GEC may be in trouble—according to an oped in the Washington Post, the center’s budget requires congressional reauthorization by the end of the year to avoid shuttering altogether. “A measure has cleared the Senate, but the Republican-controlled House has refused to follow suit, meaning the program could lapse,” the Post’s editorial board wrote.

The United States military has a much smaller but very active information warfare capability within U.S. Army special operations forces. But that, too, faces potential cuts.

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