By Lowell Ponte
America was surprised when U.S. troops in Niger were ambushed, and four were killed, on October 4. Why are more than 1,000 U.S. soldiers in this desolate region of Western Africa, and in one of the world’s least developed nations?
According to Defense Secretary James Mattis, America’s mission there is “supporting the French-led and the African troops in the campaign to throw ISIS and the terrorists, the radicals, those who foment instability and murder and mayhem, off their stride.” He speaks truth – but not the whole truth.
Until 1958, land-locked Niger was a French colony bordered by oil-rich Libya to the north and oil-rich Nigeria to the south. Niger has far less oil than its neighbors, but has good reason to be fought over both for territory and one key resource.
“France gets about 75 percent of its electricity from nuclear reactors,” the New York Times reported in 2013, and that year France dramatically increased its military forces in Niger to protect its uranium mines. The terrorists attacking Americans this October were driven off minutes later by French fighter jets streaking to the rescue.
Eighty percent of Niger citizens do not know that their country’s northern desert has uranium, which Business Insider described in 2015 as “the world’s fifth-largest recoverable uranium reserves, some 7% of the global total.”
A handful of uranium mines account for roughly a third of all of Niger’s exports and supply a third of France’s reactor fuel (and possibly the key ingredients for French nuclear weapons as well). No wonder France and its American allies are willing to pay a price to keep these radioactive isotopes flowing, avoid terrorist disruptions, and prevent Islamists from seizing this potential source of A-bomb material.
France, however, is not the only uranium mine investor in Niger. The People’s Republic of China also has reportedly committed to investing $300 million and owns a 37 percent stake in the Azelik mine, along with the Niger government plus one other Chinese and one Korean investor in a joint partnership called Somina.
President Barack Obama sent U.S. military forces to Niger in 2013, apparently to support the French buildup to protect their vital uranium mines from Islamists. In October 2017, this cost four American lives. But did these courageous soldiers implicitly also die to defend a Communist Chinese uranium mine, a potential source of China’s nuclear weapons?
How ironic that the Obama Administration gave Russia 20 percent of America’s uranium reserves, some of which Russia may have sold to Iran, and Iran may have sold to North Korea, to make weapons that someday soon could devastate the United States.
How ironic that Mr. Obama allowed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s political slush fund foundation to pocket $145 million from this Russian deal, thereby letting Russia influence American politics.
And how ironic that Mr. Obama also has been willing to put the lives of American troops on the line in Niger to defend France’s – and Communist China’s – uranium.
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