France says withdrawal of its troops from Niger to start this week

Announcement comes a week after France's ambassador to Niamey returned home under pressure from the regime

People rally in Niamey, Niger, after the departure of the French ambassador from the country. EPA
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French troops will begin withdrawing from Niger this week, Paris said on Thursday, after a falling-out with the military junta in power since a July coup.

"We will begin our disengagement operation this week, in good order, safely and in co-ordination with the Nigeriens," the military headquarters said.

The announcement comes a week after France's ambassador to Niamey returned home under pressure from the regime.

President Emmanuel Macron announced on September 24 that France would withdraw 1,400 troops "by the end of the year".

French forces were in Niger as part of a wider fight against extremists across the Sahel region that includes Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, The Gambia, Guinea Mauritania, Mali, Nigeria and Senegal.

About 400 are deployed alongside local troops in north-western Niger, near its borders with Burkina Faso and Mali.

Air support

The "three borders" zone is known as a haven for the Islamic State group.

Soldiers withdrawing from the area would need cover to leave their exposed forward positions, the military headquarters said, possibly including air support from the larger force at an airbase outside the capital Niamey.

The troops have been living with uncertainty since the junta began demanding their departure, with irregular supplies of food and repeated anti-French demonstrations outside the Niamey base.

France reinforced its presence in Niger after another coup-born military regime in Mali demanded its forces' departure, adding armoured vehicles and helicopters to the drones and fighter jets already deployed.

Its troops will now have to withdraw either via Benin to the south, which is at odds with the junta in Niamey, or Chad to the east, the site of France's headquarters for the Sahel theatre.

For now, Niamey forbids French flights over its territory.

Updated: October 05, 2023, 7:43 AM