US plans to withdraw forces from Niger

The United States has begun talks with Niger to withdraw the roughly 1,000 American troops in the country, a State Department official confirmed Monday.

The development comes after Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell met with Niger’s Prime Minister Ali Lamine Zeine on Friday, with the two on Monday committing “to initiate conversations in Niamey to begin planning an orderly and responsible withdrawal of U.S. troops from Niger,” the official told The Hill.

The New York Times first reported on the coming withdrawal.

And CNN reported the Defense Department would send a small delegation from the Pentagon and U.S. Africa Command to participate in the discussions.

The presence of U.S. forces in Niger seemed to be coming to a close since last month, when the military junta that rules the country revoked a military cooperation agreement with Washington. That accord gave American forces a major foothold to fight against extremist groups — predominately an Islamist insurgency — in the region.

The development is a major setback for U.S. efforts in the Sahel, where just six years ago, Washington spent $110 million to open a base in northern Niger used to fly surveillance drones.

Niger’s demands to leave also followed a high level U.S. delegation trip to the country to “raise a number of concerns” about Niamey growing closer to Russia and Iran, the Pentagon said at the time.

An American military presence in Niger has also been in question since a military junta in late July put the country’s president on house arrest and took control of the government.

The State Department officially declared the takeover as a coup in October, cutting back on U.S. aid and pausing security operations in the country.

Niger’s decision follows a recent trend by countries in the Sahel: turning to Russia as a partner over Western nations.

Last week, Russia delivered military equipment and 100 instructors to equip Niger with the “latest generation of anti-aircraft defense systems,” Nigerien state broadcaster RTN said Thursday.

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