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22 Mar, 2024 13:13

Washington working on way to keep troops in African state

A military presence in Niger is vital for combating extremist violence and threats to US interests in the Sahel, the Pentagon says
Washington working on way to keep troops in African state

Washington has not received a formal notice from Niger’s military government for the withdrawal of US military personnel and civilian contractors from the Sahel nation, Pentagon official Celeste Wallander has said.

The assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs told the House Armed Services Committee on Thursday that the West African nation’s authorities had announced the end of formal military ties with the US, but the Pentagon has received “mixed” signals about whether troops are no longer welcome.

“The self-identified government of Niger has not asked or demanded that the United States military depart,” Wallander claimed, adding that “they have assured us that American military forces are protected and they will take no action that would endanger them.”

Last Saturday, Niger’s new rulers, who came to power following a coup in July, announced they were canceling a defense pact that had allowed around 1,000 American troops, including support personnel, to conduct intelligence-gathering and counterterrorism operations in the country.

Nigerien military government spokesman Colonel Amadou Abdramane accused a US delegation, which was in Niamey to negotiate the renewal of the security pact, of breaching diplomatic protocols. He claimed that American officials, including the chief of US Africa Command, General Michael Langley, had attempted to “deny the sovereign Nigerien people the right to choose their partners and types of partnerships capable of truly helping them fight against terrorism.”

On Monday, Pentagon Deputy Press Secretary Sabrina Singh denied the allegations, but said the team had warned the coup leaders about their growing relations with Russia and Iran during the meeting.

Since taking power last year, the former French colony’s new leadership has been reviewing cooperation with Western partners, who had been engaged by the overthrown civilian government. France completed the withdrawal of its troops in December after Niamey’s military rulers ordered them to do so, accusing the former colonial power of internal interference and failure to combat Islamic terrorists in the Sahel, which had been the goal of their engagement.

Washington has insisted on maintaining pragmatic relations with Niamey’s military regime, ruling out disengagement from Niger.

On Thursday, Wallander said the US security presence in Niger was critical for monitoring the activities of extremist organizations and potential threats to Washington’s interests in the Sahel region. The assistant defense secretary told Congress that the US was “following up and seeking clarification” from the Niger government while trying to find a way for American troops to remain in the country.

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