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The United States will withdraw all its troops from Niger by September

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

The agreement, outlined in a joint statement from the two countries’ militaries, specifies the terms of the withdrawal announced by the Biden administration last month. It also means the beginning of the end of the Pentagon’s most enduring counterterrorism partnership in Africa’s tumultuous Sahel region.

A senior Pentagon official, Christopher P. Maier, and a senior U.S. officer, Lt. Gen. Dagvin RM Anderson, met last week in Niamey, Niger’s capital, with representatives of the Nigerien army, led by Chief of army staff, Colonel. Major Mamane Sani Kiaou, specifies the press release. The meeting was aimed “to coordinate the orderly and safe withdrawal of American forces from Niger,” he added.

The statement, released by the Pentagon, also said the two militaries have established procedures to facilitate the entry and exit of U.S. personnel, including flight and landing clearances for military aircraft. Niger has been reluctant to approve some of these authorizations in recent months, U.S. officials said.

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

The date was consistent with what U.S. officials expected, but became official after last week’s meetings. About 100 U.S. service members with urgent medical needs or family obligations, or whose jobs had been made obsolete by the previous decision to stand down, took commercial flights last week, said Kelly Cahalan, a spokeswoman for the military command. for Africa in Stuttgart, Germany. , said Sunday.

In a conference call with reporters Sunday afternoon, a senior Defense Department official said U.S. forces would take with them any lethal or dangerous weapons or equipment, but that other things like housing, generators and air conditioners would be left on site for Nigeriens. to use.

Relations between the United States and Niger have continued to deteriorate since the military overthrew the country’s president, Mohamed Bazoum, last July. The Biden administration waited until October to formally declare the junta’s takeover a coup, hoping to resolve the crisis and avoid a congressional mandate to withhold economic aid and military to any government considered to have been installed by a military coup until democracy is restored.

Diplomatic negotiations, however, went nowhere and the junta announced in March that it was ending its military cooperation agreement with the United States after a series of contentious meetings in Niamey with a high-ranking American diplomatic and military delegation. level. Nigerien leaders have accused U.S. officials of telling them how to run their country, a charge that Biden administration officials have rejected.

Niger’s decision is part of a recent trend of countries in the Sahel region, an arid zone south of the Sahara, to sever ties with Western countries. More and more, they are associating themselves with Russia.

At the beginning of April, a hundred Russian instructors and an air defense system suddenly arrived in Niger. According to Russian state newspaper Ria Novosti, the Russian personnel are part of the Africa Corps, the new paramilitary structure intended to replace the Wagner Group, the military company whose mercenaries and operations have spread across Africa under Yevgeny’s leadership. V. Prigozhin, killed in a plane crash last year.

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

Nearly 400 Americans work at an air base in Niamey, with the remaining 600 at U.S. Air Base 201, a six-year-old, $110 million facility in the isolated town of Agadez. Since the coup, troops in Agadez have remained inactive, with most of their MQ-9 Reaper drones grounded except for those carrying out surveillance missions to protect U.S. personnel.

The loss of the two bases will be a major blow to the fight against terrorism and broader security in the Sahel, U.S. officials acknowledged. Discussions are underway with coastal West African countries such as Ghana, Togo and Benin, officials said, but are still in the early stages.

“These bases have given us a big advantage in terms of strategic access and influence, as well as at the operational level,” Gen. Michael E. Langley, head of the Army’s Africa Command, said in an interview on last month.

The senior Defense Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss operational matters, said it was possible the Pentagon could resume training or other forms of security assistance to a later date, and indicated that Nigerian army officers wanted to maintain relations with their American military. counterparts. But it is unclear under what new conditions this would occur.

It is also unclear what access, if any, the United States will have in the future to the sprawling Agadez base, or whether Russian advisers and perhaps even Russian air forces will move in there if the Niger’s relations with the Kremlin are deepening. The joint press release published on Sunday does not mention the fate of the bases.

Ruth Maclean contributed reporting from Dakar, Senegal.

News Source : www.nytimes.com
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