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Monday, June 24, 2024

U.S. Military Withdrawal from Niger Underway, Completion Set for Mid-September

The withdrawal of 1,000 U.S. military personnel from Niger has begun, with a complete pullout scheduled by September 15, according to a joint statement by the U.S. and Nigerien governments on Sunday. This agreement outlines the terms of the withdrawal announced by the Biden administration last month and marks the end of a long-standing counterterrorism partnership in the Sahel region.

Senior Pentagon official Christopher P. Maier and top U.S. officer Lt. Gen. Dagvin R.M. Anderson met in Niamey, Niger’s capital, with Col. Maj. Mamane Sani Kiaou, the Nigerien army chief of staff. The meetings aimed to ensure an orderly and safe withdrawal of U.S. forces, the statement said.

A senior Defense Department official stated that U.S. forces would remove all lethal or hazardous weapons but leave behind housing, generators, and air-conditioners for Nigerien use.

U.S.-Niger relations have deteriorated since the military coup that ousted President Mohamed Bazoum last July. The Biden administration formally declared the coup in October, hoping to avoid halting economic and military aid. However, diplomatic efforts failed, and the junta announced in March the end of its military cooperation with the U.S. following contentious meetings in Niamey. Nigerien leaders accused U.S. officials of interference, a claim rejected by the Biden administration.

Niger’s shift away from the U.S. reflects a broader trend in the Sahel region, with countries increasingly aligning with Russia. In early April, approximately 100 Russian instructors and an air-defense system arrived in Niger. These personnel are part of Africa Corps, intended to replace the Wagner Group’s operations in Africa after its leader, Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, was killed in a plane crash.

Niger’s rejection of military ties with the U.S. follows the withdrawal of French troops, as France has become unpopular in the region. Nearly 400 American personnel are stationed at an airbase in Niamey, with another 600 at U.S. Air Base 201 in Agadez. Since the coup, the Agadez base has been largely inactive, with most MQ-9 Reaper drones grounded, except for surveillance missions to protect U.S. personnel.

The loss of these bases will significantly impact counterterrorism efforts and broader security in the Sahel, American officials acknowledged. Discussions are ongoing with coastal West African nations like Ghana, Togo, and Benin about potential cooperation, but these talks are in the early stages.

A senior Defense Department official indicated that the Pentagon might resume training or security assistance in the future and noted that Nigerien army officers are interested in maintaining a relationship with their American counterparts. However, the terms of any future cooperation remain uncertain.

The future access of the U.S. to the Agadez base is unclear, as is whether Russian advisers or air forces might move in if Niger’s ties with Russia deepen. The joint statement released on Sunday did not address the fate of the bases.

This strategic shift marks a significant change in U.S. military operations in the Sahel, with potential implications for regional stability and counterterrorism efforts.

Chris Matthews
Chris Matthews
I am a Political News Journalist of The National Era
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