U.S. Military to Withdraw Troops From Niger

U.S. Military to Withdraw Troops From Niger

More than 1,000 American military personnel will leave Niger in the coming months, Biden administration officials said Friday, upending U.S. counterterrorism and security policies in Africa’s turbulent Sahel region.

At the second of two meetings this week in Washington, Deputy Secretary of State Kurt M. Campbell told Nigerian Prime Minister Ali Lamine Zeine that the United States disagrees with the country’s turning to Russia for security concerns and Iran to a possible deal over its uranium are reserves and the failure of Nigeria’s military government to find a path to a return to democracy, according to a senior State Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss diplomatic talks.

The decision was not particularly a surprise. Niger announced last month that it was withdrawing its military cooperation agreement with the United States after a series of highly contentious meetings with a high-level American diplomatic and military delegation in the Nigerian capital Niamey.

The move was in line with a recent pattern of countries in the Sahel, an arid region south of the Sahara, of cutting ties with Western countries. Instead, they are increasingly entering into partnerships with Russia.

U.S. officials said American diplomats tried in recent weeks to salvage a revised military cooperation agreement with Nigeria’s military government, but in the end they failed to find a compromise.

The talks collapsed amid a growing wave of resentment toward the U.S. presence in Niger. Thousands of demonstrators in the capital called for the withdrawal of American armed forces personnel last Saturday, just days after Russia supplied the country’s military with its own military equipment and trainers.

Niger’s rejection of military ties with the United States follows troop withdrawals from France, the former colonial power that has led foreign counterterrorism efforts against jihadist groups in West Africa over the past decade but has recently been perceived as a pariah in the region.

American officials said on Friday that talks with Niger would begin in the coming days on planning an “orderly and responsible troop withdrawal” and that the process would take months to complete.

Many of the Americans sent to Niger are stationed at US Air Base 201, a six-year-old, $110 million facility in the country’s desert north. But troops there have been inactive since the military coup that toppled President Mohamed Bazoum last July and brought the junta to power. Most of its MQ-9 Reaper drones were grounded, except for those flying surveillance missions to protect U.S. troops.

It is unclear what access, if any, the United States will have to the base in the future and whether Russian advisers and perhaps even Russian air force will move in as Niger’s ties with the Kremlin deepen.

Because of the coup, the US had to end its security operations and development aid to Niger. Mr. Bazoum remains in custody eight months after his release. Nevertheless, the USA wanted to maintain its partnership with the country.

But the sudden arrival of 100 Russian trainers and an air defense system in Niger last week made the chances of short-term cooperation even less likely. According to Russian state news channel Ria Novosti, the Russian soldiers are part of the Afrika Korps, the new paramilitary structure designed to replace the Wagner Group, the military company whose mercenaries and operations spread across Africa under Yevgeny V’s leadership. Prigozhin, who died in a plane crash last year.

Protesters in Niamey on Saturday waved Russian flags as well as those of Burkina Faso and Mali, two neighboring countries where military-led governments have also requested Russian help to fight insurgents linked to the Islamic State and al-Qaeda.

American officials say they have been trying for months to avoid a formal break in ties with the Nigerian junta.

The new US ambassador to Niger, Kathleen FitzGibbon, one of Washington’s top Africa specialists, has been holding regular talks with the junta since she officially took office at the beginning of the year.

During a trip to Niger in December, Molly Phee, assistant secretary of state for African affairs, said the United States intended to resume security and development cooperation with Niger, even as she called for a rapid transition to civilian rule and the release of Mr. Niger . Bazoum.

But the Pentagon has prepared for the worst-case scenario if the talks fail. The Defense Ministry is discussing with several West African coastal states the establishment of new drone bases to replace the base in landlocked Niger. The talks are still in the early stages, military officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss operational issues.

Current and former security and diplomatic officials said Niger’s strategic location and willingness to partner with Washington will be difficult to replace.

J. Peter Pham, a former U.S. special envoy to the Sahel, said in an email: “While ordinary people in Niger will bear the brunt of the consequences of an American military withdrawal and the resulting loss of political and diplomatic attention “United States and their allies are also losing, at least in the short term, a strategic military asset that will be very difficult to replace.”

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2024-04-19 23:42:12