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US military repositions some troops in Niger, withdraws non-essential personnel


The Pentagon is repositioning some troops and equipment in Niger and will withdraw a small number of non-essential personnel “out of an abundance of caution”, US officials told Reuters on Thursday. This is the first major US military movement in Niger since the July coup. .

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, declined to say how many personnel would leave and how many would be repositioning in Niger from Air Base 101 in Niamey, the capital, to Air Base 201 in the city ​​of Agadez.

Before this movement, there were 1,100 soldiers in this West African country.

“This consolidation represents prudent military planning aimed at protecting American assets while continuing to address the threat of violent extremism in the region,” one of the officials said.

“This does not change our overall force posture in Niger, and we continue to review all options as we assess the way forward,” the official added. “The movement of US assets has been coordinated and approved by the relevant authorities.”

Officials declined to elaborate on the reasons for the repositioning. It is usually easier to evacuate people from one location, even if there is no evidence of imminence.

Over the past decade, US troops have trained Nigerien forces in counterterrorism and conducted drone missions against Islamic State and an affiliate of al-Qaeda in the region.

After the coup, the United States suspended some foreign aid programs to Niger, and military training was suspended. Troops were largely confined to bases.

President Joe Biden’s administration has not formally labeled Niger’s military takeover a coup, a designation that would limit the security assistance Washington can provide to the country.

“The leaders of this coup attempt are endangering Niger’s security, creating a potential vacuum that terrorist groups or other malicious groups could exploit,” the official said.

The United States is pushing for a diplomatic resolution to the crisis that erupted on July 26 when Nigerien military officers seized power, deposed President Mohamed Bazoum and placed him under house arrest.

The new US ambassador to Niger, Kathleen FitzGibbon, only arrived in the capital, Niamey, last month.

The US drone base known as Air Base 201 was built near Agadez in central Niger at a cost of over $100 million. Since 2018, it has been used to target the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda affiliate Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM) in the Sahel.

Its importance has grown due to the lack of Western security partners in the region.

In recent years, military juntas have come to power through coups in Mali and Burkina Faso, two neighbors of Niger. More than 2,000 French troops left Mali last year and a 13,000-strong UN peacekeeping force is expected to cease operations by the end of the year after the junta told him abruptly asked to leave.

France, Niger’s former colonial power, also has troops in the country. But so far, Paris has rejected the putschists’ calls for the withdrawal of their 1,500 troops.