The Foreign Service Journal, October 2023

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | OCTOBER 2023 13 TALKING POINTS Filling the Front Office in Niger The new U.S. ambassador to Niger, Kathleen FitzGibbon, arrived in Niamey on Aug 19. A career Foreign Service officer with extensive experience in West Africa, FitzGibbon was confirmed by the Senate on July 27—one day after the coup that ousted Niger’s President Mohamed Bazoum. Her nomination had been held up by Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) for a full year as part of an unrelated political battle. The State Department said on Aug. 19 that there are no plans for FitzGibbon to present her credentials to coup leaders. “Her arrival does not reflect any change in our policy position, but responds to the need for senior leadership of our mission at a challenging time,” the statement read. “Her diplomatic focus will be to advocate for a diplomatic solution that preserves constitutional order in Niger and for the immediate release of President Bazoum.” When a military junta toppled Niger’s U.S.-backed leader on July 26, there was no American chief of mission in the country; the embassy had been run by a chargé d’affaires since December 2021. The Biden administration did not nominate an ambassador to the post until 18 months into its tenure and still has not named a new envoy to Africa’s Sahel region. That position was created during the Trump administration and has been vacant for nearly two years, NBC reported. In an effort to revitalize relations with the region, the White House released its strategy toward sub-Saharan Africa in August 2022—the first U.S. administration to release one. Secretary of State Antony Blinken then visited Niger on March 16 of this year, a “first” by a U.S. Secretary of State. Niger was the sixth country in the Sahel—which reaches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea—to experience a coup since 2020. The region is also grappling with the rise of jihadist insurgencies. Afghanistan, Two Years Later On Aug. 15, the Taliban celebrated the second anniversary of their return to power in Afghanistan, congratulating the country on “this great victory” in a statement. In an interview that day with the Associated Press, the group’s spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said restrictions on girls and women—including the ban on girls attending school beyond sixth grade and working for assistance organizations, including the United Nations—will remain in place. He also said that there is no fixed term for Taliban rule, which “will serve for as long as it can.” Despite assurances of general amnesty from the Taliban, in the two years of their rule, hundreds of soldiers, police, and other officials from the former U.S.-backed government in Afghanistan have been subjected to extrajudicial executions, torture, disappearances, and arbitrary arrests, according to a United Nations investigation. For Afghans who worked with the U.S. but remain trapped in Afghanistan, the slow pace of Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) processing is practically a death sentence. No One Left Behind, an advocacy organization for Afghan SIV recipients, reports that it has documented hundreds of SIV applicants who were killed by the Taliban while awaiting their visas. In June, Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) introduced the Afghan Allies Protection Act of 2023 (S.1786), and a companion bill was introduced in the House of Representatives. This legislation would authorize an additional 20,000 SIVs for the Afghan program and extend it by five years, replacing the current system of year-to-year authorizations. It would also require a strategy for more efficient visa processing in an effort to reduce the backlog of applications. In July, Sen. Shaheen added similar language to the State Department’s appropriation bill, adding 20,000 more visas and extending the program through 2029. But that bill remains in limbo. Even those who didn’t work with the U.S. face immense hardship; aid agencies and human rights groups warn of the humanitarian crisis gripping the Afghan population. The EU has … draft legislation on artificial intelligence. In the U.S., basically we’re flailing. Part of that is [due to] lobbying from Silicon Valley, and part of it is because we are much more fiercely committed to free speech. And the U.S. Congress doesn’t seem to ‘get’ technology. I don’t think that we’re going to do anything as organized as the Europeans have. They’ve got a lot of experience already, and Americans are going to be watching [EU tech regulators] very, very closely. —Carla Anne Robbins, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, in an Aug. 24 episode of “The World Next Week” podcast. Contemporary Quote (Continued on page 16)