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Niger Orders American Troops to Leave Its Territory

WorldAfricaNiger Orders American Troops to Leave Its Territory


Niger said it is revoking its military cooperation deal with the United States, ordering 1,000 American armed forces personnel to leave the country and throwing the United States’ strategy in the region into disarray.

The announcement by the West African nation’s military junta on Saturday came after a meeting with a delegation from Washington and the top U.S. commander for Africa, Gen. Michael E. Langley. The move is in keeping with a recent pattern by countries in the Sahel region, an arid area south of the Sahara, of breaking ties with Western countries. Increasingly, they are partnering with Russia instead.

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

“The American presence in the territory of the Republic of Niger is illegal,” Niger’s military spokesman, Col. Amadou Abdramane, said on national television. He added that the U.S. military presence “violates all the constitutional and democratic rules, which would require the sovereign people — notably through its elected officials — to be consulted on the installation of a foreign army on its territory.”

Matthew Miller, the chief State Department spokesman, said it was in touch with the ruling military junta, known as the National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland, or CNSP, about the move.

“We are aware of the statement from the CNSP in Niger, which follows frank discussions at senior levels in Niamey this week about our concerns with the CNSP’s trajectory,” he said in a message on X, formerly Twitter.

Many of the Americans posted to Niger are stationed at U.S. Air Base 201, a six-year-old, $110 million installation in the country’s desert north. But since the military coup that ousted President Mohamed Bazoum and installed the junta last July, the troops there have been inactive, with most of their drones grounded.

Because of the coup, the United States had to suspend security operations and development aid to Niger.

Mr. Bazoum, the country’s elected president, is still under arrest, eight months after he was ousted. But the United States had wanted to maintain its partnership with the country.

A senior U.S. military official said on Sunday there had been no immediate changes to the status of about 1,000 American military personnel stationed in the country. The Pentagon has continued to conduct surveillance drone flights from Air Base 201 to protect U.S. troops and alert the Nigerian authorities if the flights detected an imminent terrorist threat.

“The canceling of the security agreement is not quite a direct expulsion of the American military presence, as happened with the French,” said Hannah Rae Armstrong, an analyst focused on peace and security in the Sahel. “It’s more likely an aggressive negotiation tactic to extract more benefits from cooperating with the Americans.”

In Niger, the decision was couched in terms of “sovereignty” — rhetoric meant to resonate with the public.

“The goal of American policy is not to help fight armed groups, but to maintain control and counter the growing influence in the region of countries such as Russia, China and Turkey,” Abdoulaye Sissoko, a Nigerien columnist, wrote on a popular Nigerien news site. “There is no public evidence that American bases in Niger have proven useful.”

American officials say they have tried for months to prevent a formal break in relations with Niger’s junta.

The new U.S. ambassador to Niger, Kathleen FitzGibbon, one of Washington’s top Africa specialists, has held regular discussions with the junta since taking office at the beginning of the year.

In a trip to Niger in December, Molly Phee, an 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 swift transition to civilian rule and the release of Mr. Bazoum.

But the Pentagon has been planning for the worst-case contingencies if the talks failed. The Defense Department has been discussing establishing new drone bases with several coastal West African countries as backups to the base in Niger, which is landlocked. Talks are still in the early stages, military officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss operational matters.

J. Peter Pham, a former special U.S. envoy to the Sahel, said Washington will “have to wait and see” how Niger will implement the new approach.

“The potential fallout goes beyond the not insignificant damage to counterterrorism and intelligence efforts that loss of access to the bases in Niger entail,” Mr. Pham said, “but to the broader damage to America’s standing on the continent.”

The Biden administration formally acknowledged last October what most countries had declared months previously: that the military takeover in Niger last July was a coup.

Biden administration officials had sidestepped that declaration for weeks because the word “coup” has major policy implications. Congress has mandated that the United States must halt all economic and military aid to any government installed by a military coup until democracy is restored.

But the administration finally concluded that efforts to restore Niger’s democratically elected government to power had failed and that aid that had not already been restricted would be cut off. State Department officials said nearly $200 million in aid that was temporarily paused in August would be suspended. About $442 million in trade and agricultural assistance will also be suspended.

In Washington, the Biden administration had been holding out increasingly dim hopes that the military junta would reverse its takeover and agree to restore a democratically elected government.

The junta’s announcement is part of a major change in dynamic between the country and its erstwhile Western partners.

“It reflects a real shift in the balance of power,” Ms. Armstrong said. “Over the past decade, Niger has repeatedly pleaded for security assistance and aid. Now it’s the U.S. that finds itself in a position of being asked to beg to keep forces and bases in the country.”

The entire military approach in the Sahel needs to be reformed, said El Hadj Djitteye, director of the Timbuktu Center for Strategic Studies on the Sahel, a Mali-based think tank.

“Western governments including the United States and France have failed to work closely with African governments and civilian populations in economic and military development,” Mr. Djitteye said. This, he said, has fed the widely held perception that their presence in the region is an extension of “the old colonial pattern which puts colonial interests first and African interests a distant second.”





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