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US departure from Niger already underway ahead of September deadline

US departure from Niger already underway ahead of September deadline


After a chaotic months-long saga, the United States began withdrawing its forces from Niger.

The two countries announced their decision in a joint statement on Sunday, after nearly a week of military talks. The deadline is September 15.

America has relied on the West African country as a counterterrorism hub for more than a decade. Until recently, more than 1,000 U.S. military personnel operated there, most working from an air base near Agadez, which cost more than $100 million and is in the center of the country.

This is not a good result, a senior defense official said Sunday, speaking to reporters on condition of anonymity. We are leaving Niger after a significant investment and a lot of time invested in the partnership.

Those ties began to deteriorate last summer after a coup replaced the ruling government with a military junta known as the National Council for the Safeguarding of the Fatherland, or CNSP. The United States has not called the revolt a coup, a legal title that limits the support America can offer until October 2023. By that date, the new government had already asked French forces as well stationed in the country to leave.

Last March, shortly after a previous round of negotiations, a CNSP spokesperson announced that the American military could no longer continue to operate there. The video surprised U.S. officials, who were also initially unsure whether it was official Nigerian policy or boasting.

But in the months that followed, the decision became clear: The United States would leave; it was enough to negotiate how.

Developing a plan to achieve this was the goal of this month's talks, led by the two militaries.

Niger agreed to protect U.S. forces during their withdrawal and help expedite some of the logistics.

During this time, the United States will withdraw all military personnel from the country. About 100 non-essential personnel have already left, said a senior military official who also attended the briefing.

This is already underway, the defense official said.

With them, stocks of equipment will be widely distributed across other sites belonging to US Africa Command. America will remove all sensitive and lethal equipment, officials said, but will leave anything that is repaired, such as a barracks or hangar, or that costs more to move than its value. Departure is primarily by air rather than land, making transportation more expensive.

Both officials doubted that, for now, the remaining equipment would end up in the hands of a foreign government. This month, the Pentagon confirmed reports that Russian soldiers were stationed near U.S. forces near the capital, adding to concerns that Moscow was replacing Washington in the country.

There is certainly interest at the moment in [Nigerian] The US military must not disrupt the situation, the US military official said. I don't think that in the short term they will give this equipment to others.

Instead, the official expects Nigerians to use it for their own counterterrorism fight, which has intensified in recent years as violent extremism rises in the region. The US presence in the country has focused on this mission, conducting operations itself and training the Nigerian military to do so as well.

And even though U.S. operations have taken a pause in recent months, the military official said, the Nigerian forces they trained have continued their own counterterrorism work.

In withdrawing, America will also look to the future of its relationship with the country. The two officials who briefed journalists colored it in warm tones, saying their military ties, with the exception of some Nigerien military who run the government, are still strong.

There is a generation of Nigerian military personnel … who grew up with American training, equipment and education, the defense official said. This is something we expect them to continue to desire.

Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell will likely travel to Niger in the coming months to discuss the future of the two countries.

They thought it was important to emphasize that they did not view this as the end of relations, the military official said.

Noah Robertson is the Pentagon reporter at Defense News. He previously covered national security for the Christian Science Monitor. He holds a bachelor's degree in English and government from the College of William & Mary in his hometown of Williamsburg, Virginia.

Jonathan is the editor and editor of the Early Bird Brief newsletter for Military Times. Follow him on Twitter @lehrfeld_media




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