US troops to leave Niger by mid-September: Officials

Written by on May 19, 2024

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(WASHINGTON) — All of the remaining U.S. troops based in Niger will leave the country no later than mid-September, according to U.S. officials and a joint statement from the two countries.

Both sides mutually agreed to a withdrawal deadline of September 15 after several days of meetings between May 15-19, according to a joint statement from the Pentagon and Niger’s national defense department released Sunday. Fewer than a thousand troops remain in Niger.

The move finalizes a setback to U.S. efforts to combat terrorism in the Sahel, a region of sub-Saharan Africa where groups affiliated with ISIS and al-Qaeda operate. Russian troops are also currently based in Niger at the invitation of Niger’s military junta.

A senior U.S. defense official who briefed reporters on a Pentagon call Sunday afternoon said they were unaware of Russia’s current posture in the country and on Air Base 101 but said they do not anticipate Russia stepping in to fill the counterterrorism void left by the departure of U.S. troops.

“I don’t think that this is a situation like we’ve seen in other countries in which the counterterrorism responsibilities will be turned over to a Wagner or a Russian-type entity. First off, I think the Nigerian military is too capable for that,” the senior defense official said.

The U.S. plans to remove as much American equipment as is practical, according to a senior military official who also briefed reporters on the call.

“The goal is to take as much as we can to protect the investment of the U.S. taxpayers, but there’s significant infrastructure, including the airbase,” the official said.

Despite the ongoing withdrawal of U.S. forces, Nigerian officials have left the door open to future cooperation, according to the official, who noted that the American diplomatic presence will remain. The official suggested it is a good idea for the U.S. to leave that military infrastructure to the Nigerians.

“We are committed to a longer-term relationship with Niger. And so while … our departure is certainly going to result in the reset of that, it’s not in our interest to necessarily deny them the use of the equipment,” the official said.

But all equipment that is feasible to remove will leave with the U.S. troops.

“Obviously, sensitive equipment, lethal equipment, hazardous equipment — these kinds of things will be removed. A lot of what we expect will be left behind is either things that are immobile or are going to cost a lot more for the United States to take out than they’re actually worth,” the official said.

The U.S. is in discussions with nearby countries to try to keep some of the departing U.S. military capability in the region, though nothing concrete has come of that so far, according to the official.

“The expectation is that much of this equipment will return to … our stocks if need be,” the official said.

The troops and equipment are expected to leave Niger “well before” the Sept. 15 deadline, according to the official.

The Nigerian military first began efforts to have U.S. forces leave after a coup toppled the democratically elected president in July. It also asked French forces to leave the country.

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