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US agrees to withdraw troops from Niger amid Sahel region’s pivot to Russia

In News, World
April 20, 2024

The US built a base in the desert city of Agadez at the cost of $100m for manned and unmanned surveillance flights.

The United States will withdraw its soldiers from Niger as the West African nation is increasingly turning to Russia and away from Western powers.

The US Department of State agreed to pull out about 1,000 troops from the country that has been under military rule since July 2023, US media reported late on Friday.

US Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell and Nigerien Prime Minister Ali Mahaman Lamine Zeine met on Friday, the reports said, with Washington committing to begin planning an “orderly and responsible” withdrawal of its troops from the country.

The US built a military base in Niger to combat armed groups that pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda and ISIL (ISIS) in the Sahel region, which also includes Burkina Faso and Mali.

The major airbase in Agadez, some 920km (572 miles) from the capital Niamey was used for manned and unmanned surveillance flights and other operations.

Known as Air Base 201, it was built at a cost of more than $100m. Since 2018, it has been used to target ISIL fighters and Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM), an al-Qaeda affiliate.

While maintaining a line of communication with the military government in Niger, the US military had started preparing for the possibility of having to withdraw, with US General James Hecker saying last year that Washington is probing “several locations” elsewhere in West Africa to station its drones.

Nigerien state television reported that US officials would visit next week. There was no public announcement from the State Department on the withdrawal and officials said no timeline had yet been set.

Niger announced in March that it had suspended a military agreement with the US and would pursue a withdrawal of its soldiers.

The US is being forced to withdraw from Niger as it is not favoured either by the ruling military or by the population that is rejecting post-colonial forces. Protesters took to the streets in the capital earlier this month to demand the departure of US forces.

Like the military rulers in neighbouring Mali and Burkina Faso, the West African nation had kicked out French and European troops following the military takeover.

All three countries have now turned to Russia for support, with Moscow confirming earlier this month that it has sent military trainers and an air defence system and other military equipment to Niger as it deepens its security ties.

Along with armed groups, the conflict-ridden Sahel region is also becoming an influential route for drug trafficking, with the United Nations saying 1,466kg (3,232 pounds) of cocaine were seized in Mali, Chad, Burkina Faso and Niger compared with an average of just 13kg (28.7 pounds) between 2013 and 2020.

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