US to withdraw troops from Niger after military deal revoked

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(LONDON) — The United States and Niger are discussing plans to withdraw American troops from the West African nation, ending more than a decade of U.S. military presence in the country.

Pentagon press secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder confirmed during Tuesday’s press briefing that “discussions have begun between the United States and Niger for the orderly withdrawal of U.S. forces from the country.”

“In the near future, the Department of Defense will provide a small delegation from the Pentagon and U.S. Africa Command to participate in those discussions,” Ryder said, adding that the U.S. will continue to work with nations throughout the region to address terror threats.

The U.S. has yet to announce a timeline for when it will pull out the more than 1,000 military personnel stationed at an American drone base in the Sahara desert near the Nigerien city of Agadez. Videos circulating on social media over the weekend showed hundreds of people marching through the streets of Agadez to protest the U.S. military presence.

Niger’s ruling military junta, which ousted the democratically elected government in July 2023, announced its decision last month to immediately revoke a 2012 military cooperation deal with the U.S. following contentious meetings between high-level officials on both sides in the Nigerian capital of Niamey.

The American delegation had raised “concerns over Niger’s potential relationships with Russia and Iran, as well as the status of U.S. forces in the country,” according to the U.S. Department of Defense.

But the spokesperson for Niger’s junta, Col. Amadou Abdramane, denounced what he called a “condescending attitude combined with the threat of reprisals by the head of the American delegation against the people of Niger.” He accused the U.S. of failing to adhere to democratic protocol by trying to “deny the sovereign Nigerien people the right to choose their partners and types of partnerships capable of truly helping them fight against terrorism.”

The development came just months after Niger’s former colonizer, France, heeded the junta’s demands and withdrew French troops from the country amid a shifting geopolitical landscape in Africa’s arid Sahel region.

Niger has long been a key ally to the U.S., France and other Western nations in the fight against Islamist militants in the Sahel, south of the Sahara. But as Niger’s military government moves to sever those ties, the country – and others in the region – has been increasingly turning to Russia to deal with security threats. Earlier this month, the initial deployment of some 100 officers from Russia’s newly established African Corps arrived in Niger.

The paramilitary unit, which is under direct supervision of the Russian Ministry of Defense and is believed to be rebranded from the infamous but now defunct Wagner Group, said they are there to “develop military cooperation between Russia and Niger” and will “train” Nigerien military personnel.

While testifying before Congress on March 7, the commander of the U.S. African Command, Gen. Michael Langley, warned of Russia’s growing influence in the Sahel, saying “a number of countries are at the tipping point of actually being captured by the Russian Federation.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Wednesday that “Russia reaffirms its commitment to helping African countries strengthen their sovereignty and security in all aspects and dimensions.”

ABC News’ Matt Seyler contributed to this report.

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