US military repositions some troops in Niger after coup

Pentagon is also withdrawing some non-essential personnel

FILE PHOTO: A U.S. special forces soldier demonstrates how to detain a suspect during Flintlock 2014, a U.S.-led international training mission for African militaries, in Diffa, Niger March 4, 2014. REUTERS/Joe Penney/File photo
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The Pentagon is repositioning some troops and equipment in Niger and will withdraw a small number of non-essential personnel “out of an abundance of caution,” US officials said on Thursday.

It was the first major American military movement in Niger since a coup in July.

Officials, who spoke to Reuters, declined to say how many personnel would be leaving and how many were moving within Niger from airbase 101 in Niamey, the capital, to airbase 201 in the city of Agadez.

Before this movement, there were 1,100 troops in the West African country.

“This consolidation represents prudent military planning to safeguard US assets while continuing to address the threat of violent extremism in the region,” one of the officials said.

“This does not change our overall force posture in Niger, and we continue to review all options as we assess a way forward."

The officials declined to give more details on the reasons for the repositioning.

It is generally easier to evacuate people from a single location, although there is no evidence that is imminent.

Over the past decade, US troops have trained Niger's forces in counter-terrorism and conducted drone missions against ISIS and an Al Qaeda affiliate in the region.

After the coup, the US paused some foreign assistance programmes for Niger and military training has been put on hold. American troops have largely been confined to the bases.

The administration of President Joe Biden has not formally called the military takeover in Niger a coup, a designation that would limit what security assistance Washington could provide to the country.

“The leaders of this attempted coup are putting Niger's security at risk, creating a potential vacuum that terrorist groups or other malign groups may exploit,” the official said.

The US has been pressing for a diplomatic resolution of the crisis that began on July 26 when Niger military officers seized power, deposed President Mohamed Bazoum and placed him under house arrest.

The new US ambassador to Niger, Kathleen Fitzgibbon, arrived in Niamey only last month.

The US drone base, airbase 201, was built near Agadez in central Niger at a cost of more than $100 million.

Since 2018, it has been used to attack ISIS and al Qaeda affiliate Jamaat Nusrat Al Islam wal Muslimeen in the Sahel.

It has grown in importance due to a lack of western security partners in the region.

Military juntas have come to power through coups in Mali and Burkina Faso – both neighbours of Niger – in recent years.

More than 2,000 French troops left Mali last year and a 13,000-strong UN peacekeeping force is due to shut down by the end of the year after the junta abruptly asked it to leave.

France, Niger's former colonial power, also has troops in the country. But so far, Paris has rejected calls by the coup leaders to withdraw its 1,500 troops.

Updated: September 07, 2023, 7:53 PM