U.S. to Withdraw Troops from Niger Despite Plans to Continue Operations

The U.S. is withdrawing troops from Niger after the military junta ended a cooperation agreement, a significant setback for counterterrorism efforts in the Sahel as Russia seeks to fill the void.

Nasiru Eneji Abdulrasheed
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U.S. to Withdraw Troops from Niger Despite Plans to Continue Operations

U.S. to Withdraw Troops from Niger Despite Plans to Continue Operations

The United States will begin withdrawing its roughly 1,100 troops from Niger, including from the $110 million U.S. Air Base 201 in Agadez, according to U.S. officials. The withdrawal comes after Niger's ruling military junta ended a military cooperation agreement with Washington last month.

U.S. Ambassador Kathleen FitzGibbon and Major General Ken Ekman are set to meet with officials from Niger's National Committee for Safeguarding the Homeland (CNSP) on April 25, 2024 to initiate discussions on an "orderly and responsible withdrawal of U.S. forces. Additional Defense Department officials will hold follow-up meetings next week to coordinate the withdrawal process "transparently and with mutual respect."

The U.S. has invested heavily in Niger over the past decade, with the country serving as a key base for counterterrorism operations in the Sahel region. However, relations have deteriorated since a military coup ousted Niger's president last year. The junta has criticized the U.S. for warning against cooperating with Russia and Iran, and has accused Washington of a "condescending attitude" and "threat of reprisals."

Why this matters: The withdrawal of U.S. troops from Niger represents a significant setback for American counterterrorism efforts in the Sahel region. It also highlights the growing challenges the U.S. faces in maintaining influence and partnerships in Africa amid competition from Russia and China.

Despite the troop withdrawal, the U.S. is still seeking to maintain a relationship with Niger. Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell is set to visit Niamey in the coming months to discuss ongoing collaboration in areas of joint interest. "The U.S. reaffirms its support for the Nigerien people as they combat terrorism, develop the economy, and transition to democratic rule," a U.S. official stated.

The loss of Air Base 201 in Agadez, which has been used for aerial surveillance and counterterrorism operations, will significantly degrade the U.S. military's ability to monitor and respond to terrorist threats in the region. The U.S. is exploring options to continue its missions, including discussions with neighboring countries like Benin, Cote d'Ivoire, and Ghana, but these alternatives may not be as effective.

As Niger and other countries in the Sahel increasingly turn to Russia to deal with security threats, there are concerns that Moscow could take over the U.S. base in Agadez, potentially threatening NATO's southern flank. The initial deployment of Russian officers has already arrived in Niger to reinforce the country's air defenses.

Key Takeaways

  • U.S. to withdraw 1,100 troops from Niger, including from Air Base 201 in Agadez.
  • Withdrawal follows Niger's military junta ending cooperation agreement with Washington.
  • U.S. counterterrorism efforts in Sahel region will be significantly degraded by troop withdrawal.
  • U.S. exploring options to continue missions, but alternatives may not be as effective.
  • Concerns Russia could take over U.S. base in Agadez, threatening NATO's southern flank.