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U.S. Wants to Keep Troops in Niger Despite Ally’s Claim of Illegality

U.S. seeks to keep troops in Niger after key ally calls their presence illegal

Days after Niger’s military junta declared the presence of U.S. troops in the West African nation “illegal,” American officials are now engaged in closed-door talks to determine the future of their security presence in what has been the United States’ closest regional ally.

According to U.S. officials, the situation is evolving rapidly, with both parties exploring conditions under which the American military presence could continue, potentially in a reduced capacity. Currently, there are about 1,000 troops and a significant drone base in the north of the country at Agadez, all part of efforts to counter Islamist militancy in the region.

A spokesperson for Niger’s junta announced on national television Saturday night that the U.S. military presence violates Niger’s constitution. The government declared an immediate end to its security agreements with the United States, citing what it described as a “condescending attitude” from American officials who had attempted to dictate Niger’s diplomatic relationships, including those with Iran and Russia.

U.S. Wants to Keep Troops in Niger Despite Ally's Claim of Illegality

U.S. Wants to Keep Troops in Niger Despite Ally’s Claim of Illegality (Credits: Yahoo)

The junta’s statement publicly reiterated concerns raised by the Biden administration that Nigerien leaders had allegedly agreed to supply uranium to Iran, a move deemed unacceptable by the United States. Niger signed a new security agreement with Russia in December, though the details remain unclear, and Russian troops are not currently deployed in Niger.

A senior U.S. official believes the junta’s stance is more of a reaction to Washington’s expressed concerns about the nation’s shifting direction rather than a principled objection to U.S. assistance. Analysts express doubts about the future of the U.S.-Nigerien relationship, particularly as the junta has not set a timeline for restoring democracy since the overthrow of Niger’s elected president in July.

The junta’s firm stance has sparked calls within Nigerien society for the withdrawal of American troops, with growing questioning of the purpose behind their presence.

U.S. Wants to Keep Troops in Niger Despite Ally's Claim of Illegality

U.S. Wants to Keep Troops in Niger Despite Ally’s Claim of Illegality (Credits: Washington Post)

These developments leave U.S. service members stationed at the drone base in a state of uncertainty. Gen. Michael E. Langley, head of U.S. Africa Command, underscores the base’s significance in providing surveillance and warnings, including for homeland defense.

The Nigerien government has not responded to repeated requests for comment on the matter.

The U.S. military’s involvement in Niger dates back to the early 2000s, initially focused on counterterrorism efforts. Operations intensified around 2013, following Islamist militants’ seizure of territory in neighboring Mali. However, military activities have been constrained since the Tongo Tongo ambush in October 2017, which resulted in the deaths of four American soldiers.

The recent geopolitical situation in West Africa has witnessed significant shifts, with military takeovers in Mali and Burkina Faso prompting changes in regional alliances. Niger, once viewed as a valuable Western security partner, now finds itself at odds with the United States.

A recent visit by a U.S. delegation aimed to address concerns about Niger’s commitment to democracy and its partnerships with other countries, but the outcome remains uncertain. Despite the junta’s public announcement, the details of the U.S. presence in Niger have yet to be clarified.

Observers suggest a reassessment of U.S. expectations in Niger, considering the junta’s apparent disregard for American interests. While some in Niamey express concerns about potential escalations in violence, others welcome the junta’s decision as a step towards asserting Niger’s sovereignty.

Reporting from Niamey, Niger, contributed by Omar Hama Saley.

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