US withdraws all troops from Niger by September

The withdrawal of 1,000 US troops from Niger is underway and all US troops will leave the West African country by September 15, the US and Nigerian governments said on Sunday.

Agreement, described A joint statement By the two countries’ militaries, it echoes the terms of the tug-of-war announced by the Biden administration last month. It also marks the beginning of the end of the Pentagon’s most enduring counterterrorism ally in Africa’s volatile Sahel region.

Senior Pentagon official Christopher P. The mayor and the top US official, Lt. Gen. Daquin RM Anderson, met with Niger’s military representatives last week in Niamey, Niger’s capital. Major Mamane Sani Kyaw, the statement said. It added that the meeting was to “coordinate the orderly and safe withdrawal of US forces from Niger”.

In a statement released by the Pentagon, the two militaries have established procedures to facilitate the entry and exit of U.S. personnel, including flight and landing permits for military aircraft. Niger has blocked approving some of those permits in recent months, U.S. officials said.

In a separate statement posted on social media, Niger’s military said “the withdrawal of US forces from Niger will be carried out with mutual respect and transparency by mid-September 2024”.

The date was in line with expectations by US officials, but only became official after meetings last week. About 100 U.S. service members with medical needs or family obligations, or because their jobs were previously terminated, have left on commercial flights in the past week, said Kelly Cahalan, a spokeswoman for the Army’s Africa Command in Stuttgart, Germany. , said Sunday.

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In a conference call with reporters on Sunday afternoon, a senior defense official said US forces would take with them all dangerous or hazardous weapons or equipment, but other items such as houses, generators and air conditioners would be left with Nigerians. to use

US relations with Niger have steadily deteriorated since the military ousted the country’s president, Mohamed Bassum, last July. The Biden administration waited until October to officially declare the military coup a coup, hoping to avoid a congressional mandate to freeze economic and military aid to any government deemed installed by the military coup until the crisis is resolved and democracy is restored.

However, diplomatic talks have gone nowhere, and Junta said in March that he would end his military cooperation agreement with the United States after a contentious meeting with a high-level American diplomatic and military delegation in Niamey. Nigerian leaders have accused U.S. officials of telling them how to run their country, a charge Biden administration officials have denied.

Niger’s decision was in line with a recent pattern of countries in the Sahel region, an arid region south of the Sahara, cutting ties with the West. Increasingly, they are partnering with Russia instead.

In early April, about 100 Russian instructors and an air-defense system suddenly arrived in Niger. According to Russia’s state-owned news agency RIA Novosti, the Russian personnel are part of the Africa Corps, a new paramilitary structure that will replace the Wagner Group, whose military company was headed by Yevgeny V and spread mercenaries and operations in Africa. Prigogine was killed in a plane crash last year.

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Niger’s rejection of military ties to the United States followed the withdrawal of troops from France, leading to foreign counterterrorism efforts against jihadist groups in West Africa over the past decades, but it has recently been considered a pariah in the region. .

About 400 US personnel work at an air base in Niamey, with the remaining 600 at US Air Base 201, a six-year-old, $110 million installation in the remote city of Agadez. Since the coup, troops in Agadez have been inactive, with most of their MQ-9 Reaper drones grounded except for flying surveillance missions to protect US personnel.

The loss of the two bases would be a blow to counterterrorism and broader security in the Sahel, US officials acknowledged. Discussions are underway with coastal West African countries such as Ghana, Togo and Benin, but negotiations are still at an early stage.

“Those bases were a huge advantage for us in terms of our strategic reach and influence and at an operational level,” said Gen. Michael E. Langley, head of the Army’s Africa Command, said in an interview last month.

A senior defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss operational matters, said the Pentagon may resume training or other security assistance in the future and that Nigerian military officials want to maintain relations with their American counterparts. Peers. But under what new rules that will happen is uncertain.

It’s also unclear what future access the U.S. will have to the vast base at Agadez, and whether Russian advisers and perhaps even Russian air forces will move if Niger’s ties to the Kremlin deepen. The joint statement issued on Sunday did not specify the fate of the sites.

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Ruth McLean Contributed reporting from Dakar, Senegal.

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