POWDER KEG AFRICA: US Troops Will Leave Niger in a Blow to Counterterrorism and Security Policy in the Sahel Region

The saga of the geopolitical realignment in the African Sahel region seems far from over.

After a string of coups ushered a number of military juntas into power in Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso, the power and influence of the Western powers – notably France and the US – crumbled at a rapid pace.

After Emmanuel Macron’s France was forced to withdraw all his troops from the Sahel nations, in a major humiliation for the post-colonial power, now it’s time for the American forces to also depart Niger, in a considerable setback for its counterterrorism and security policy in the tumultuous Sahel region of Africa.

It has been reported that US sources have admitted that more than 1,000 American military personnel will leave Niger in the coming months.

The void left by the departure of the Western powers has been filled by Russia.

In a meeting in Washington, State Department officials told Niger’s prime minister, Ali Lamine Zeineof, of the US disagreement with the country’s turn toward Russia for security and also for considering Iran for a deal on its uranium reserves.

New York Times reported:

“The decision was not a particular surprise. Niger said last month that it was revoking its military cooperation deal with the United States following a highly contentious set of meetings in Niger’s capital, Niamey, with a high-level American diplomatic and military delegation.

That move was in keeping with a recent pattern by countries in the Sahel region, an arid area south of the Sahara, of breaking ties with Western countries. Increasingly, they are partnering with Russia instead. American diplomats have sought in the past several weeks to salvage a revamped military cooperation deal with Niger’s military government, U.S. officials said, but in the end they failed to strike a compromise.”

The presence of the US troops was amply rejected by the population. Protesters in the capital have been calling for the withdrawal of military personnel – only days after Russia delivered its own set of military equipment and instructors to the country’s military.

Discussions were held with Niger to plan out an ‘orderly and responsible withdrawal’ of forces in the coming days, a process that will take months to complete.

“Many of the Americans posted to Niger are stationed at U.S. Air Base 201, a six-year-old, $110 million installation in the country’s desert north. But since the military coup that ousted President Mohamed Bazoum and installed the junta last July, the troops there have been inactive, with most of their MQ-9 Reaper drones grounded except those flying surveillance missions to protect the U.S. troops.

It is unclear what access, if any, the United States will have to the base in the future, and whether Russian advisers and perhaps even Russian air forces will move in if Niger’s relations with the Kremlin deepen. Because of the coup, the United States had to suspend security operations and development aid to Niger. Mr. Bazoum is still under arrest, eight months after he was ousted. Nevertheless, the United States had wanted to maintain its partnership with the country.”

One hundred Russian instructors and an air-defense system arrived in Niger this past week in a sudden move that disrupted cooperation in the short term.

“The demonstrators in Niamey […] waved Russian flags as well as those of Burkina Faso and Mali, two neighboring countries where military-led governments have also called in Russian assistance to help fight insurgents affiliated with the Islamic State and Al Qaeda.”

The Defense Department is trying to establish new drone bases in a coastal West African country. Talks are still in the early stages.

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