US troops prepare now to leave Niger by September

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The West’s hegemony is the Sahel region will soon be nothing more than a faint memory as its last troops are ready to ship out, leaving another stain on the foreign policy worksheet of Joe Biden as he prepares to head to the polls.

US troops ordered out of Niger by the West African country’s ruling junta will complete their withdrawal by the middle of September, the Pentagon and Nigerien defence officials said on May 19th, according to Arab Weekly and agencies.

Until recently, Washington considered Niger a key partner and ally in a region swept by coups in recent years, investing millions of dollars in the Agadez base, which has been critical to US counterterrorism operations in the Sahel. The United States also has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in training Niger’s military since it began operations there in 2013.

READ: Russian military instructors land in Niger

Niger’s decision however to remove American forces dealt a blow to US military operations in the Sahel, a vast region south of the Sahara desert where groups linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIS) extremist groups operate.

US troops and some of their equipment have already begun leaving the country, said a senior military official and a senior defence official who briefed reporters in a call on May 19th. The plan is to remove all lethal, hazardous or classified equipment before the last US troops depart, but items that are determined to be too expensive to fly out could be left for the Nigerien military to use instead, the officials said.

The US also will leave behind infrastructure it has built over the years to support the approximately 1,000 troops who have been based there to conduct counterterrorism missions, the officials said. Fewer than 1,000 US troops are still in Niger, mostly on an airbase near Agadez, some 920 kilometres from the capital.

READ: Niger talks Sahel’s security with Russia

The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive details of the withdrawal.

The officials called Niger an “anchor” in US counterterrorism efforts over the last decade, and they are still looking at options on how to fill that gap. The officials said that their hope is to continue to work with the Nigerien military on counterterrorism in the future, even if US troops are not based there on the ground.

The rupture in military cooperation followed last July’s ouster of the country’s democratically-elected president by mutinous soldiers. A few months later, the ruling junta asked French forces to leave and turned to the Russian mercenary group Wagner for security assistance.

The officials said they did not have any indications that the Wagner group may end up increasing its influence over the Nigerien military in the absence of US personnel. Currently Washington is busy scouting other locations in West Africa where its troops could relocate to.

In October, Washington officially designated the military takeover as a coup, which triggered US laws restricting the military support and aid that it can provide to Niger.

Arab Weekly/agencies


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