US military will begin plans to withdraw troops from Niger

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A US and Niger flag are raised side by side at the base camp for air forces and other personnel supporting the construction of Niger Air Base 201 in Agadez, Niger, April 16, 2018. (AP)

DAKAR, Senegal, April 21, (AP): The United States will begin plans to withdraw troops from Niger, US officials said Saturday, in what experts say is a blow to Washington and its allies in the region in terms of staging security operations in the Sahel. The planned departure comes as US officials said they were trying to find a new military agreement.
The prime minister of Niger, appointed by the ruling military junta, Ali Lamine Zeine, and US deputy secretary of state Kurt Campbell, agreed on Friday that the two nations would begin to plan the withdrawal of American troops, the US State Department told The Associated Press in an email Saturday.
A U.S. official said there was no timeline for withdrawal besides talks set to start in the coming days about next steps. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to detail the private diplomatic discussions. An American delegation to coordinate the details of the withdrawal process will be dispatched soon.
Niger plays a central role in the US military’s operations in Africa’s Sahel region, an area on the edge of the Sahara Desert. Washington is concerned about the spread of jihadi violence, where local groups have pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda and the 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, using it for manned and unmanned surveillance flights and other operations. The U.S. has also invested hundreds of millions of dollars in training Niger’s military since it began operations there in 2013.
But relations have frayed between Niger and Western countries since mutinous soldiers ousted the country’s democratically elected president in July. Niger’s junta has since told French forces to leave and turned instead to Russia for security. Earlier this month, Russian military trainers arrived to reinforce the country’s air defenses and with Russian equipment to train Nigeriens to use.
There was an attempt on the behalf of the US to revise the military agreement with Niger that would allow them to stay, US officials told the AP. But the agreement between Zeine and Campbell shows that the effort has failed.

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