US seeks to keep troops, drone bases in Niger after junta calls them illegal

DAKAR, Senegal – Days after Niger’s military junta announces U.S. military presence Is ‘illegal’ in that West African country U.S. officials are seeking closed-door talks to determine whether some form of security presence can be maintained in the country, which has been America’s closest regional ally.

U.S. officials said the situation was “dynamic” and that both sides were exploring conditions under which a U.S. military presence could continue. The presence, which currently includes about 1,000 troops and a large drone base in Agadez in the north of the country, is likely to be reduced as part of efforts to combat Islamist militants in the region.

A spokesman for Niger’s military government said in a statement Read on Saturday night on national television The U.S. military presence violates Niger’s constitution and the government is terminating its security agreement with the United States, effective immediately. National Council for the Defense of the Homeland (CNSP) spokesman Amadou Abdoulamane said the decision came after days of meetings in which a delegation of US officials in Niamey showed “condescension” attitude” and trying to decide which West African countries are. Relations with countries including Iran and Russia are possible.

The junta’s statement made public concerns raised privately by the Biden administration that Niger’s leaders had crossed what Washington considers a red line by agreeing to supply uranium to Iran. In December, Niger signed a new security agreement with Russia, but it is unclear what it involves and Russian soldiers are not currently stationed in Niger.

A senior U.S. official said the Biden administration viewed the junta’s statement “less as some principled stance against U.S. aid than as a deep reluctance to what we expressed to them last week about where they are going with their numbers.” Worried anger.” front. “

Some regional analysts say there is little reason for optimism in U.S.-Niger relations. Niger’s military junta has yet to set a timetable for restoring democracy as the United States insists – Niger’s democratically elected president was ousted in July – and appears unwilling to listen to U.S. advice on who it can work with. Abdoulamane said on Saturday that Niger’s ties with Russia and Iran go back decades and he defended Niger’s right to have relations with any country of its choice.

The military government’s tough remarks have triggered calls within Niger society for the withdrawal of U.S. troops.Local Previously, people’s dissatisfaction was mainly concentrated in FranceNiger was once a colonial power, but Nigeriens are increasingly questioning the purpose of the U.S. military.

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These developments put U.S. service members at drone bases in a difficult position, Gen. Michael E. Langley, commander of U.S. Africa Command, said said in a recent interview has been key to “active surveillance and warning, including homeland defense.”

Niger’s government did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

U.S. forces began operating in Niger in the early 2000s as part of the Bush administration’s counterterrorism strategy, primarily to train and equip the country’s military, and expanded significantly around 2013, when Islamist militants seized large swaths of territory in neighboring Mali .

Alan Van Saun, the Special Forces battalion commander, said that at the height of the operation around 2017, U.S. forces were providing intelligence on armed groups and supporting “kill and capture” missions led by Niger’s military Provide medical and logistical support. From summer 2017 to February 2018. He said all operations were conducted at the request of the Nigerien military and with permission from the U.S. Embassy in Niger, distinguishing the mission from those in Iraq or Afghanistan, where U.S. forces have greater Much autonomy.

Since four U.S. soldiers from Van Saun Company were killed in the Tongo Tongo ambush in October 2017, prompting investigations by Congress and the Department of Defense, military operations were restricted. He said this had led to an “erosion of trust” among Nigeriens “because when push came to shove and it was time for them to go out and perform high-risk missions, we were sitting there keeping the lights on”. “

However, he added that a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops would exacerbate a growing security vacuum in the region, which has become a global hotspot for Islamic extremism in recent years.

After military takeovers in Mali and Burkina Faso in 2021 and 2022 respectively, the military governments asked French troops to leave and welcomed Russian militants. In Mali, They fought alongside the militaryand in Burkina Faso they are providing training.

Following these coups, Niger became an increasingly valuable security partner to the West.When a Nigerien Army Officer Last summer, democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum was oustedMany officials in Paris and Washington were alarmed that France supported military intervention to restore Bazoum to power, while the United States came out against the idea.

Within weeks, the junta publicly gave the French army until the end of 2023 to pack its bags. Most U.S. security cooperation suspendedoperations were limited to troop protection and warning Niger officials of impending armed attacks.

The junta announced this weekend it was terminating its security agreement with Washington, following a visit last week by a U.S. delegation that included Langley. Molly Phee, senior official for African affairs at the State Department; and Celeste Wallander, assistant secretary of defense for international affairs.

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According to reports, at a meeting in Niamey, the capital of Niger, U.S. officials once again emphasized the importance of restoring democracy and said that Niger’s pursuit of partnerships with some other countries would limit the United States’ own willingness to establish partnerships with Niger. Senior Biden administration official. The purpose of the trip, the official said, was to determine “whether these individuals could be good partners for us and meet our values ​​and interests.”

Six senior U.S. officials said the situation in Niger is now unstable. They requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue. One official said that despite public statements, Niger’s government has not provided private technical communications to force the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country.

Andrew Lebovich, a researcher at the Clingendael Institute who focuses on Niger, said U.S. officials appeared to be failing to “acknowledge the reality in Niger.” He said that despite significant U.S. economic and security investments in Niger over the years, Nigerien officials now appear to have little interest in maintaining a U.S. presence.

“For so long in Niger, the United States convinced itself that we were not French and that we could rely on Niger,” Lebovich said. “Now, there’s an element of denialism in thinking that the U.S. military might be able to find a way to stay.”

Peter Fan, the former U.S. special envoy for the Sahel, said regional dynamics have changed. “It’s not a business like it used to be,” Fan said. “You can’t give a lecture on democracy to an African government, even one like Niger, one of the poorest, least developed countries, without first weighing our strategic interests against the regime’s immediate concerns.”

In Niamey, some residents said they fear ending ties with the United States would lead to an escalation of violence. But others said they saw no difference between U.S. troops and those of other countries, including France.

Alkassoum Saïdou, 36, said: “We are really happy to see this historic decision taken by the CNSP to liberate our people from US imperialism. Every country They are all defending their own interests, not those of Niger.”

Omar Hama Saley in Niamey, Niger, contributed to this report.

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By Ali Raza

I am a dedicated and skilled News Content Writer with a passion for delivering accurate and engaging stories to a diverse audience. With a solid background in journalism and a keen eye for detail, I bring a commitment to excellence and a deep understanding of the evolving media landscape.

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