Niger orders US troops to leave its territory

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Niger said it is revoking its military cooperation agreement with the United States, ordering 1,000 U.S. military personnel to leave the country and disrupting U.S. strategy in the region.

The announcement Saturday by the West African nation’s military junta came after meetings last week with a delegation from Washington and the top U.S. commander for Africa, Gen. Michael E. Langley. The move is in line with a recent pattern by countries in the Sahel region, an arid area south of the Sahara, of severing ties with Western countries. Increasingly, they are partnering with Russia.

U.S. officials also expressed alarm in the meetings about several other issues, including whether Niger’s military government was close to a deal to give Iran access to Niger’s vast uranium reserves, a concern that was previously reported by The Wall Street Journal.

Niger’s rejection of military ties with the United States follows withdrawal of Niger from troops from France, the former colonial power that, for the past decade, has led foreign counterterrorism efforts against jihadist groups in West Africa, but which has lately been perceived as a pariah in the region.

“The American presence on the territory of the Niger Republic is illegal,” Niger’s military spokesman, Colonel Amadou Abdramane, said on national television. He added that the US military presence “violates all constitutional and democratic rules, which would require that the sovereign people – particularly through their elected officials – be consulted about the installation of a foreign army on their territory.”

Matthew Miller, the State Department’s chief spokesman, said he was in contact with the ruling military junta, known as the National Council for the Safeguarding of the Fatherland, or CNSP, about the move.

“We are aware of the CNSP’s statement in Niger, which follows frank discussions at high levels in Niamey this week about our concerns with the CNSP’s record,” he said in a statement. message in Xformerly Twitter.

Many of the Americans stationed in Niger are stationed in US Air Base 201, a six-year-old, $110 million facility in the country’s northern desert. But since the military coup that overthrew President Mohamed Bazoum and installed the junta last July, troops there have been inactive and most of their drones are grounded.

Due to the coup, the United States had to suspend security operations and development aid to Niger.

Bazoum, the country’s elected president, remains in detention, eight months after his overthrow. But the United States had wanted to Maintain your association with the country.

A senior U.S. military official said Sunday that there had been no immediate changes to the status of about 1,000 U.S. military personnel stationed in the country. The Pentagon has continued to conduct surveillance drone flights from Air Base 201 to protect US troops and alert Nigerien authorities if the flights detected an imminent terrorist threat.

“The cancellation of the security agreement is not entirely a direct expulsion of the American military presence, as was the case with the French,” said Hannah Rae Armstrong, an analyst focused on peace and security in the Sahel. “It is more likely that this is an aggressive negotiation tactic to extract more benefits from cooperation with the Americans.”

In Niger, the decision was couched in terms of “sovereignty,” a rhetoric meant to resonate with the public.

“The goal of US policy is not to help fight armed groups, but to maintain control and counter the growing influence in the region of countries like Russia, China and Turkey,” Abdoulaye Sissoko, a Nigerien columnist, wrote in a popular newspaper. Nigerien. place. “There is no public evidence that US bases in Niger have proven useful.”

U.S. officials say they have tried for months to avoid a formal breakdown in relations with Niger’s junta.

The new US ambassador to Niger, Kathleen FitzGibbon, one of Washington’s top Africa specialists, has held regular talks with the board since taking office at the beginning of the year.

On a trip to Niger in December, Molly Phee, assistant secretary of state for African affairs, said the United States intended to resume security and development cooperation with Niger, even as it called for a rapid transition to civilian government and the release of Mr. Bazoum.

But the Pentagon has been planning for the worst contingencies if the talks were to fail. The Defense Department has been discussing establishing new drone bases with several coastal West African countries as a backup to the base in landlocked Niger. The talks are still in the early stages, said military officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss operational matters.

J. Peter Pham, former US special envoy to the Sahel, said Washington “will have to wait and see” how Niger will implement the new approach.

“The potential consequences go beyond the not insignificant damage to counterterrorism and intelligence efforts that the loss of access to bases in Niger entails,” Pham said, “but to the broader damage to the United States’ position on the continent.” .

The Biden administration formally recognized last October what most countries had declared months earlier: that the military takeover in Niger last July was a coup.

Biden administration officials had dodged that statement for weeks because the word “coup” has important political implications. Congress has ordered that the United States must suspend all economic and military aid to any government installed by a military coup until democracy is restored.

But the administration ultimately concluded that efforts to restore Niger’s democratically elected government to power had failed and that aid that had not yet been restricted would be cut off. State Department officials said nearly $200 million in aid that was temporarily suspended in August would be suspended. About $442 million in trade and agricultural assistance will also be suspended.

In Washington, the Biden administration had held out increasingly dim hopes that the military junta would reverse its takeover and agree to restore a democratically elected government.

The junta’s announcement is part of a major shift in dynamics between the country and its former Western partners.

“It reflects a real shift in the balance of power,” Armstrong said. “Over the last decade, Niger has repeatedly requested security assistance and assistance. “Now it is the United States that finds itself in a position of being asked to beg to maintain forces and bases in the country.”

The entire military approach in the Sahel needs to be reformed, said El Hadj Djitteye, director of the Timbuktu-based Center for Sahel Strategic Studies, a Mali-based think tank.

“Western governments, including the United States and France, have not worked closely with African governments and civilian populations on economic and military development,” Djitteye said. This, he said, has fueled the widespread perception that their presence in the region is an extension of the “old colonial pattern that puts colonial interests first and African interests a distant second.”

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