US to cut military presence in Niger – Politico
The US has begun “repositioning” its troops in Niger and plans to cut their number “nearly in half” over the next several weeks, Politico reported on Friday, citing two Defense Department officials.
Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh told reporters on Thursday that some of the troops stationed at the airport in the country's capital Niamey have already redeployed to the smaller base in Agadez around 500 miles (739km) away.
The US and France sent troops and drones to Niger to counter Islamist insurgents who appeared throughout the Sahel after the 2011 NATO regime-change intervention in Libya.
The Nigerien military ousted US-backed President Mohamed Bazoum in late July, accusing him of failure in the war on terrorism. The military government has since demanded the departure of French forces. Nearby Mali and Burkina Faso have also been taken over by military governments in recent years and likewise ousted the former colonial power.
Though Bazoum has appealed to the US to intervene and “restore democracy,” the US has refrained from classifying his ouster as a coup, since that would require Washington to cut all military aid to Niger. The Pentagon has “suspended” the training of Nigerien forces, but is reluctant to leave the country altogether.
As part of the move, the US will also reduce the overall number of troops in Niger from around 1,200 to somewhere between 500 and 1,000, one official told Politico.
“It’s about matching the right people to the right mission,” the second official said. “The number is not as important to us as the function they are performing,” the official explained.
Although Singh called the situation in Niger “relatively stable” and noted there was no “specific threat” to US troops, one of Politico’s sources said the decision to redeploy was taken out of an abundance of caution, given the recent protests outside the French military base in Niamey.
“We are trying to reduce the footprint in Niamey but still maintain our ability to conduct counterterrorism operations,” she said.
Earlier this week, the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service warned that the US might be preparing to assassinate the leaders of the military government in Niamey, as the threat of military intervention by the West African ECOWAS bloc has failed to sway them into restoring Bazoum.