Saturday , July 13 2024

US troops pull out of Niger’s Air Base 101


NIAMEY: The US military withdrew its personnel from Niger’s Air Base 101 near the airport in the capital Niamey on Sunday, ahead of its exit from a major drone base near the desert city of Agadez in the coming weeks.

Niger’s ruling junta in April ordered the US to withdraw its nearly 1,000 military personnel from the country following a coup last year in the West African nation.

“Thanks to effective cooperation and communication between the Nigerian and American armed forces, this operation was completed ahead of schedule and without any complications,” Niger’s defence ministry and the US Department of Defense said in a joint statement.

The focus will next shift to withdrawal from the $100 million drone base near Agadez in central Niger, which had provided crucial intelligence about jihadist-linked groups, US Air Force Major General Kenneth Ekman said on Friday.

The pullout from that base, known as Air Base 201, will likely take place in August, he said.

Niger’s ruling junta has given the US until Sept. 15 to remove troops from its territory.

In April, Russia sent military trainers to Niger.

Niger and its military-led neighbors Mali and Burkina Faso signed a confederation treaty on Saturday, signaling an ever-closer alignment between the countries in the insurgency-torn central Sahel.

They have torn up defence agreements with US, European and United Nations forces.

Meanwhile, military instructors and personnel from Russia’s defence ministry arrived in Niger on Wednesday, Niger state television RTN said, and in a further sign the West African country is building closer relations with Moscow like its junta-led neighbors.

In a Thursday broadcast, RTN showed footage of a military cargo plane unloading gear as people in fatigues stood by. It said the deployment followed a recent agreement between Niger’s junta and Russian President Vladimir Putin to boost cooperation.

“We are here to train the Nigerien army … (and) to develop military cooperation between Russia and Niger,” said a man in camouflage uniform, who RTN said was one of the instructors.

The man had a neck gaiter pulled up over most of his face while he spoke on camera.

RTN also said Russia had agreed to install an anti-aircraft system in Niger. “Our airspace will now be better protected,” the broadcaster said.

The US military is set to complete the withdrawal on Sunday of its personnel from Niger’s Air Base 101 in the nation’s capital and then will shift its focus to exiting a major drone base in the coming weeks, a US general said on Friday.

Niger’s ruling junta in April ordered the US to withdraw its nearly 1,000 military personnel from the country, in an embarrassing setback for Washington that followed a coup last year in the West African nation.

Before the coup, Niger had been a key partner in the US fight against insurgents in the Sahel region of Africa, who have killed thousands of people and displaced millions more. Washington is searching for a Plan B in West Africa but the process is slow and officials caution that US intelligence is dimming on the fast-growing extremist groups in the region.

Air Force Major General Kenneth Ekman, who is in Niger to coordinate the departure, said the US exit from Air Base 101 will be finalized with a ceremony on Sunday evening. The base is located next to Diori Hamani International Airport in the capital Niamey. (Int’l News Desk)

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