US military will begin plans to withdraw troops from Niger – The Zimbabwe Mail

DAKAR, Senegal — The United States will begin plans to withdraw troops from Niger, U.S. officials said Saturday, in what experts say is a blow to Washington and its allies in the region when it comes to organizing security operations in the Sahel. The planned departure comes as US officials said they were trying to find a new military deal.

Niger’s prime minister, appointed by ruling military junta Ali Lamine Zeine, and US Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell agreed on Friday that the two countries will plan the withdrawal of US troops, the US State Department told The Associated. Press an email on Saturday.

A US official said there was no timeline for the withdrawal beyond talks set to begin in the coming days on next steps. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to detail the private diplomatic talks. A US delegation will be dispatched soon to coordinate the details of the withdrawal process.

Niger plays a central role in the US military’s operations in Africa’s Sahel region, an area on the edge of the Sahara. Washington is concerned about the spread of jihadist violence, with local groups having pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda and Islamic State groups. Niger is home to a major US air base, in the city of Agadez, about 920 kilometers (550 miles) from the capital Niamey, which it uses for manned and unmanned surveillance flights and other operations. The US has also invested hundreds of millions of dollars in training Niger’s military since it began operations there in 2013.

But relations between Niger and Western countries have deteriorated since mutinous soldiers ousted the country’s democratically elected president in July. Niger’s junta has since told French troops to leave and instead turned to Russia for security. Earlier this month, Russian military trainers arrived to strengthen the country’s air defenses and with Russian equipment for Nigeriens to use.

There was an effort on behalf of the U.S. to revise the military agreement with Niger that would have allowed them to stay, U.S. officials told the AP. But the agreement between Zeine and Campbell shows that the effort failed.

A separate senior U.S. State Department official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive diplomatic conversations, told the AP on Saturday that Niger’s junta has decided it does not want foreign troops in the country, including the U.S. and the United States. that the security partnership was coming to an end for the time being. The junta told the US that Russia’s presence was intended to train Nigeriens to operate the equipment. The official said the US had legitimate concerns about some of the choices the junta was making, particularly the possibility of bringing together Russian and US forces.

The loss of access to air bases in Niger is a major setback for the US and its allies in the region due to its strategic location for security operations in the Sahel, said Peter Pham, former US special envoy to the Sahel region.

“In the short term, they will be difficult to replace,” Pham said, adding that the European Union’s remaining military presence would likely withdraw from Niger following news of a US departure.

Severing ties between the two nations would impact development and humanitarian aid funds earmarked for Niger, a country that ranks at the bottom of many welfare indicators, Pham said.

Insa Garba Saidou, a local activist who assists Niger’s military rulers with their communications, told the AP that U.S. troops could possibly return after negotiations and that Niger’s ruling junta, the National Council for the Protection of the Homeland, has a good wants to maintain a functioning organization. relationship with the US

The US must find a new form of engagement that moves away from the failed counter-terrorism cooperation model of the past decade, and continue to put pressure on other states in the Sahel region over accountability and human rights abuses, said Hannah Rae Armstrong, a senior consultant at the area of ​​peace in the Sahel. and safety.

The two officials said Niger and the US would continue to cooperate in areas of shared interest.

___ Sam Mednick reported from Jerusalem. Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.

Source: AP