Last weekend, American Green Berets were training local forces in Guinea, West Africa, when their charges dispersed for a mission not stated in any military instruction manual: they staged a coup.
Early Sunday, gunfire erupted as an elite Guinean Special Forces team invaded the presidential palace in Conakry, deposing the country’s 83-year-old president, Alpha Condé. Col. Mamady Doumbouya, a charming young officer, was introduced as Guinea’s new leader a few hours later.
He was well-known among the Americans.
Colonel Doumbouya, who served in the French Foreign Legion for years, participated in American military exercises and was once a close ally of the president he overthrew, led a team of about a dozen Green Berets to Guinea in mid-July to train about 100 soldiers in a special forces unit led by Colonel Doumbouya.
The US has condemned the coup, as have the UN and the African Union, and the US military has denied having any advance knowledge of it.
However, it is a source of embarrassment for the Pentagon. The US has trained troops in a number of African countries, primarily for counter-terrorism initiatives but also to support civilian-led governments.
Although several U.S.-trained officers have taken control in their countries — most notably, Egypt’s General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi — this is thought to be the first time one has done so while enrolled in an American military training.
According to Kelly Cahalan, a spokesperson for the US Africa Command, immediately the Green Berets recognized a coup was happening, they drove straight to the US Embassy in Conakry and the training program was terminated. According to her, the coup is “incompatible with U.S. military training and education.”
The location where the training took place was in Forécariah, a four-hour drive from the presidential palace and close to Guinea’s border with Sierra Leone, according to American authorities trying to downplay the incident.
However, US authorities stated on Friday that they were looking into claims that Colonel Doumbouya and his fellow coup plotters left the same base early on Sunday in an armed convoy, raising the possibility that they sneaked away while their instructors were sleeping.
In an email, Bardha S. Azari, a spokeswoman for the US Africa Command, said, “We have no knowledge on how the apparent military seizure of power occurred, and we had no previous indication of these actions.”
Following two coups in Mali and a disputed succession in Chad, the coup in Guinea, the fourth military takeover in West Africa in a year, fanned fears of democratic backsliding in a coup-prone region of Africa.
Video footage surfacing in recent days has shown smiling American military officers in a crowd of joyful Guineans on Sept. 5, the day of the coup, adding to the unease of US authorities at their proximity to the coup plotters.
One American appears to shake hands with ecstatic people as a four-wheel-drive vehicle with Guinean soldiers seated on the back rushes through the crowd yelling “Freedom.”
“If the Americans are behind the coup, it’s because of their mining interests,” Diapharou Baldé, a Conakry teacher, said, referring to Guinea’s vast gold, iron ore, and bauxite deposits, which are used to create aluminum.
The video showed Green Berets returning to the US Embassy on Sunday, according to American officials, but they denied it signaled support for the coup. Ms. Azari, the spokeswoman, stated, “The United States government and military are not involved in any way in this apparent military seizure of power.”
For many Guineans, the Americans’ cameo involvement in the revolution was simply one part of a week of dizzying change orchestrated by Colonel Doumbouya, 41, Africa’s second-youngest leader.
The youngest is in Mali, where Col. Assimi Gota, who came to power in May after a coup, is the youngest.
Colonel Doumbouya appeared on state television wearing sunglasses and draped in Guinea’s tricolor flag after an hour-long firefight outside the presidential palace on Sunday, in which at least 11 people were killed, according to Guinean and Western sources.
He claimed he was forced to take power as a result of President Condé’s activities. Condé was elected president in 2010 after a previous coup opened the way for elections.
Last year, though, Mr. Condé’s legitimacy sank after he altered the constitution to allow him to run for a third term, which he won. According to Amnesty International, over 400 political opponents were imprisoned in Guinea’s dismal jails after the election, with at least four of them dying.
Following the coup, footage circulated of a disheveled Mr. Condé slouched on a sofa, looking despondent, surrounded by soldiers. Colonel Doumbouya has refused to reveal where he is being held, despite the fact that envoys from West Africa’s main political and economic grouping visited with Mr. Condé on Friday and reported that he was in good health.
The president was deposed by an officer whose career he had previously endorsed.
Colonel Doumbouya first came to public attention in October 2018, when he marched the country’s newly formed Special Forces unit through central Conakry as part of Guinea’s 60th-anniversary festivities. The parade’s photos went popular on Guinean social media.
“The soldiers’ choreography and synchronized movement of their vehicles wowed the crowd,” said Issaka K. Souaré, director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s Sahel and West Africa program.
In a 2018 interview, Mr. Condé showered admiration for the young officer, who is a Malinke tribal member. According to his official biography, Colonel Doumbouya served as a French Legionnaire in Afghanistan and the Ivory Coast, as well as completing a commando training course in Israel.
He is a French citizen who is married to a French military police officer and has a defense studies degree from a university in Paris.
Although public discontent with Mr. Condé sparked the coup, it was also fanned by simmering rivalries inside Guinea’s defense establishment, according to a Western diplomat and an analyst who did not want to be recognized due to the delicacy of the situation.
Colonel Doumbouya and Guinea’s defense minister, Mohamed Diané, were thought to be at odds. Mr. Diané relocated the Special Forces unit to the facility in Forécariah, fearing a putsch in the capital.
Colonel Doumbouya publicly expressed his dissatisfaction with his unit’s lack of resources.
Colonel Doumbouya has been known to American officials since the beginning of his rise. He was photographed outside the US Embassy in October 2018 with three American military personnel, according to a photo on the US Embassy’s Facebook page.
However, American officials stated on Friday that they were perplexed as to why he would stage a coup at a time when he was collaborating closely with Americans.
It isn’t the first time that African coups have placed a pall over American training initiatives there. In 2012, as militants swept over Mali’s northern desert, US-trained commanders of the country’s elite army units defected at a crucial moment, transferring troops, trucks, weapons, and their newly acquired abilities to the enemy.
This article was originally reported in The New York Times, and you can Watch The Video On NYTIMES.COM