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Why the military withdrawal from Niger is a “devastating blow” for the United States and probably a victory for Russia

Johannesburg — After investing more than a billion dollars in Niger over a decade, the American army agreed to withdraw its more than 1,000 forces from this West African country over the coming months. It was not a move the United States hoped to make, and officials told CBS News it would be a major blow to U.S. counterterrorism efforts in a region known to pose a number of major and growing threats.

Niger is a landlocked country surrounded by unstable neighbors where local militias joined forces with international terrorist organizations including Al-Qaeda and ISIS.

A senior U.S. military official who spent time in Niger told CBS News that the impending withdrawal was “a devastating blow, both to our regional counterterrorism efforts and to overall peace in the region.”

“Our soldiers have worked for years to build capacity and provide training to regional forces,” the official said. “It’s a big blow on every level.”

Boys gather on the roof of a car while waving the flags of Niger, Burkina Faso and Russia during a protest demanding the immediate departure of US troops from Niger, in Niamey, April 13, 2024.


Next to a military coup in July 2023Nigerien leaders have made clear in various discussions with U.S. officials that they are not interested in U.S. efforts to guide the country on a path to new democratic elections and are instead looking to Russia for security services and towards Iran for a possible agreement on the subject. Niger’s uranium reserves.

In March, the head of the US military command for Africa, General Michael Langley, warned members of the US Congress that “a number of countries are on the verge of capture by the Russian Federation.”

Just days before Langley testified at the Capitol, he traveled to Niger to meet with leaders of the country’s junta. The meeting did not go as U.S. officials had hoped, and shortly after Langley and his entourage left, Niger’s military spokesman, Amadou Abdramane, announced on national television that the agreement military joint between the country and the United States was “suspended with immediate effect”.

Protesters hold a sign demanding that U.S. troops immediately leave Niger during a demonstration in Niamey, Niger, April 13, 2024.

AFP via Getty

U.S. military sources told CBS News that there was diplomatic pressure to try to repair strained relations, but that Nigerien officials had made it clear that security cooperation was untenable.

The military government of Niger had already expelled French forces from the country following the last year’s coup and I started looking for new partners. U.S. officials said it was concerning that Nigeriens were expelling troops from France, the country’s former colonial power.

A few months later, in January, Nigerien junta leaders agreed to step up military cooperation with Russia, and last week a Russian transport plane arrived in the capital Niamey, reportedly carrying 100 Russian military trainers and a new air defense system.

The region around Niger has seen six successful coups in the last three years alone. The ruling juntas of Guinea, Mali and Burkina Faso have all issued statements of support for Niger’s new military leaders.

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Sources tell CBS News that a handful of Niger coup plotters had already received U.S. military training during various exercises on the continent.

The United States is estimated to have spent more than $1 billion building two drone bases and a new embassy in Niger over about a decade. The Niger bases and the approximately 1,100 U.S. forces based there have played a central role in U.S. operations in the volatile Sahel region, which spans across North Africa.

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Many Americans first became aware of U.S. Special Forces operations in Niger in 2017, after four American soldiers were killed in an ambush by ISIS militants just outside the town of Tongo Tongo.

Last week, a member of the US forces serving in Niger sent an email to House Speaker Mike Johnson detailing the conditions under which he and his comrades were present in the African country, saying that since the coup of State, they were told to “sit and hold”, which prevented them from carrying out their mission.

In the letter, a copy of which was shared online by Rep. Matt Gaetzthe soldier said U.S. troops in Niger were effectively “held hostage” in a country that had made it clear they were no longer welcome.

During regular weekend protests in Niamey, Nigeriens demanded that American soldiers leave immediately, with a poster reading: “American army, you leave, you disappear.”

Another American delegation is expected to visit Niger soon to discuss the timetable for the withdrawal, which is expected to take place in the coming months.

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