Russian Troops Have No Access to US Forces or Equipment in Niger, Says Defense Secretary Austin

Russian military personnel have entered Airbase 101 in Niger, where a small number of US troops are also stationed. The US has been ordered to leave Niger, dealing a blow to US counterterrorism efforts in the Sahel region of Africa.

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Nitish Verma
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RussianTroops EnterNiger Base Hosting US Forces Amid Tensions

RussianTroops EnterNiger Base Hosting US Forces Amid Tensions

Russian military personnel have entered Airbase 101 in Niamey, Niger, which currently hosts a small number of US troops. The development comes after Niger's ruling junta ordered all American forces to leave the country, dealing a significant blow to US counterterrorism efforts in the Sahel region of Africa. Despite the presence of Russian troops at the same base, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin stated that there is no significant issue with US forces in Niger.

Why this matters: The presence of Russian troops in Niger highlights the growing competition between the US and Russia for influence in Africa, with significant implications for global security and counterterrorism efforts. As Russia expands its presence in the region, it may challenge the US's ability to maintain stability and security in the Sahel, potentially leading to a surge in extremist activity.

The Russian troops, who arrived at the base about three weeks ago, are located on the other side of the Niamey facility and are not near US forces. "The Russians are in a separate compound and don't have access to US forces or access to our equipment," Austin said. He added, "I'm always focused on the safety and protection of our troops. But right now, I don't see a significant issue here in terms of our force protection."

The Pentagon has confirmed that US troops will depart Niger but has not provided a precise timeline for the withdrawal. About 1,000 US troops remain in the country, with the bulk of them relocated to Airbase 201 near Agadez, approximately 920 kilometers away from the capital, after mutinous soldiers ousted Niger's democratically elected president last July. The ruling junta has asked French forces to leave and turned to the Russian mercenary group Wagner for security assistance.

The arrival of Russian troops at Airbase 101 comes amid heightened tensions between Washington and Moscow over US support for Ukraine's military. In March, a US delegation, including Gen. Michael Langley, commander of US Africa Command, and Celeste Wallander, the assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, visited Niger to express concern about the escalating Russian military presence in the country.

Niger had been a key partner in the US's fight against the Islamic State group and al-Qaeda affiliates in the Sahel region before the military coup in July last year. The US has invested millions of dollars in the Agadez base and hundreds of millions of dollars in training Niger's military since 2013. Washington officially designated the military takeover as a coup in October, triggering US laws restricting military support and aid to Niger.

The US military is not alone in facing challenges in the region. The Pentagon has announced plans to relocate most of the approximately 100 forces deployed in neighboring Chad for now, pending the outcome of Chad's May 6th presidential election. "The departure from Chad 'is a temporary step as part of the ongoing review of our security cooperation, which will resume after Chad's May 6th presidential election,'" said Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder, Pentagon press secretary.

As Russia seeks to strengthen its relations with African nations, pitching Moscow as a friendly country with no colonial baggage on the continent, the US and its allies have been forced to move troops out of several African countries, including Mali and Burkina Faso, following coups that brought to power military leaders eager to distance themselves from Western governments. The situation in Niger highlights the changing geopolitical dynamics in Africa and the challenges faced by the US in maintaining its military presence and counterterrorism efforts in the region.

The presence of Russian and US troops at the same base in Niger, despite the tense relations between the two countries, raises questions about the future of stability and security in the Sahel region. The US works to withdraw its forces from Niger in an orderly manner, and now the dynamic between Russia and the West will unfold in this strategically important part of Africa.

Key Takeaways

  • Russian troops enter Airbase 101 in Niger, where US troops are also present.
  • Niger's ruling junta orders US forces to leave, dealing a blow to US counterterrorism efforts.
  • Russia's growing presence in Africa challenges US influence and stability in the region.
  • About 1,000 US troops remain in Niger, with a planned withdrawal to Airbase 201 near Agadez.
  • The situation highlights the changing geopolitical dynamics in Africa and the challenges faced by the US.