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US to Withdraw Troops from Niger, Facing Another Setback in Africa

The US has agreed to withdraw its forces from Niger, CNN reported citing a US State Department official.

US Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campell met with Niger’s Prime Minister Ali Lamine Zeine on Friday and agreed that the US would withdraw its troops from the West African nation, as per Niger’s requests.

The official said that more conversations will be held in the coming days to discuss the timeline for the withdrawal with the US Department of Defense (the Pentagon).

Negotiations Stalled

Campell and Zeine’s meeting was the second this week, while the Nigerien official was in Washington, DC, for the World Bank’s spring meetings. The US official said that Zeine emphasized on Niger’s desire to resume its partnership with the US and tried to differentiate this situation from that of France.

“However, it seems the two countries will be militarily forced out of the country one year of another, but the US will maintain a diplomatic presence there,” the official said.

In March, Niger ended its military cooperation deal with the US, that allowed US military personnel and civilian staff from the Pentagon to operate in the country, calling the agreement “profoundly unfair.”

Niger’s Significance 

Niger has played a central role in US counterterrorism efforts in the Sahel Region. It has hosted two US military bases, Air Base 101 and Air Base 201, from where the US conducted manned and unmanned surveillance flights and other operations. The airbase hosts around 1,000 US military personnel.

The US has also invested millions of dollars in training Niger’s military since its operations in the country began in 2013.

The relations between Niger and western states frayed since the military coup that ousted Niger’s democratically elected president, Mohamed Bazoum, last July. Since then, the US troops stationed in the West African country became inactive.

The installed military junta told French forces to leave and turned into Russia for security. In October, the US officially designated the military takeover as a coup, a decision that requires Washington to restrict its military and security support for Niger.

A Room for Russia and China

In April 2024, Russian military personnel arrived in Niger to train Nigerien forces, delivering military equipment and stating their plans to build an air defense system in the country.

The loss of military presence in Niger creates problems for the US regional interests in Africa and paves the way for Russia and China to promote their interests and gain access to commercial and security resources, while preventing Washington from creating political influence in the continent.

According to an analysis published by The Conversation, Niger’s junta strengthened military cooperation with Russia and Iran, in response to economic sanctions imposed after the coup.

The US forces withdrawal could create a room for China to increase its influence in the country. In recent years, China has been one of Niger’s top trading partners, while the US accounts for a relatively small share of Niger’s total trade.

China has been working to expand its influence in the African continent. In 2017, it established its first foreign military base in Djibouti. It is reportedly trying to build another one in Equatorial Guinea. Beijing has also invested billions of dollars in economic developments in Africa, as part of its Belt and Road Initiative.

At the same time, Russia has increased its influence in the region through its Wagner Group, which provides military assistance to African leaders and negotiate new economic deals with them. The Wagner Group was rebranded as Africa Corps, after the death of its leader Yevgeny Prigozhin, and continues its work in Africa.

Another Setback

The fact that US rivals, such as Russia and China, gain influence in the region makes it more costly for Washington to establish new military bases in Africa. Research shows that host countries choose to cooperate with major powers that offer more economic incentives. This could make it harder for the US to maintain a presence in western and central Africa.

The US risks losing its military presence in another African country. The government of Chad threatened to end the Status of Forces Agreement, or SOFA, which defines the rules and conditions under which the US military personnel can operate in the country.

US officials told CNN that a letter sent to the US defense attaché last week said all US forces would have to leave the French base in N’Djamena, in what could be another blow to the US military presence in Africa.

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