what Western forces still there? – The Express

what Western forces still there – The Express

End clap. The United States will withdraw its thousand soldiers from Niger at the request of the Niamey regime following the July coup, against a backdrop of Russia’s growing power in the region. The number two in American diplomacy, Kurt Campbell, accepted the request of the Nigerien authorities on Saturday April 30 during a meeting in Washington with Prime Minister Ali Mahamane Lamine Zeine. The more than 1,000 American soldiers present in the country were engaged in the anti-jihadist fight in the Sahel and had a major drone base in Agadez (north), built for around $100 million.

The new agreement provides for the sending of an American delegation to Niger in the coming days to agree on the details of the troop withdrawal. For its part, the American State Department did not immediately react officially. The timetable for the withdrawal was not specified.

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After the coup d’état which overthrew elected President Mohamed Bazoum on July 26, the new military regime quickly demanded the departure of soldiers from the former French colonial power and notably moved closer to Russia, as Neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso, also governed by the military. Note that the last French soldiers left the country at the end of December.

The United States, for its part, kept a low profile, hoping to avoid the same fate. This summer, they took two months before condemning the coup: Washington preferred to favor dialogue unlike their French counterparts. But last month, the Nigerien government denounced the military cooperation agreement signed in 2012 with the United States, believing that it had been “unilaterally imposed” by Washington and that the American presence was now “illegal”. “It is an eviction which plants the final nail in the coffin of the United States’ strategy” in the face of Islamist terrorism in the Sahel, said The Wall Street Journaltranslated by International mail. In December, an American general said that the United States was in discussions to base its drones in other countries in the region.

Moscow expands its influence

Now the last Western countries to have troops in Niger are Germany and Italy. It must be said that even on the Sahel aspect, the European Union has not been able to put together a common front. Unlike its French partner, Germany has tried to maintain channels of communication with the military juntas. But will Berlin experience the same fate as France? While the German Minister of Defense, Boris Pistorius, was visiting Niger in December 2023, he reiterated his desire to continue his cooperation on the ground. To which his Nigerien counterpart, General Salifou Modi, responded: “In this context, we will see with the Germans the new conditions, the new arrangements to be taken. In all cases, what must be remembered is “The stationing of foreign troops in Niger will now be subject to the appreciation of Nigeriens.”

Unsurprisingly, Western troops are gradually being replaced on the ground by those from Moscow. On Wednesday April 10, Russian instructors arrived in Niamey, while the country’s authorities received their first delivery of Russian military equipment as part of new security cooperation with the Kremlin. Two days later, Africa Corps – seen as the successor to the Wagner paramilitary company in Africa – confirmed its arrival in the country. The Russian Federation will “endow” Niger and “install an anti-aircraft defense system” capable of “ensuring total control of our airspace”, affirmed Nigerien television.

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Russian mercenaries could therefore still play an important role in the Sahel in 2024, despite the death of their boss Yevgeny Prigozhin, who challenged the Kremlin’s leadership in the war in Ukraine last August. At the end of March, the head of the military regime in Niger, General Abdourahamane Tiani, spoke by telephone with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss in particular the “strengthening” of their security cooperation, according to an official Nigerien press release.

In Niger, as in neighboring Burkina and Mali, the security situation has deteriorated significantly since the departure of French soldiers. The three countries have faced recurring and deadly jihadist violence for years, perpetrated by groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (IS). While civilian governments have been overthrown by successive military coups since 2020, Westerners fear the formation of a jihadist corridor, as 23 soldiers were killed in Niger on March 21 in a tense ambush. by terrorists.