US military begins process to remove troops from troubled African nation

'We can confirm the beginning of discussions between the U.S. and Niger for the orderly withdrawal of U.S. forces from the country,' a U.S. official said Saturday

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The Biden administration has begun the process of removing U.S. troops from Niger, though a timeline on the effort is not immediately clear.

A U.S. defense official confirmed the beginning stages of the removal process in a statement to Fox News Digital on Saturday, saying discussions between the U.S. and Niger for the "orderly removal" of troops had started.

"We can confirm the beginning of discussions between the U.S. and Niger for the orderly withdrawal of U.S. forces from the country," the official said.

The official did not provide a timeline for when troops would be removed from the West African country, but noted that individuals from the Pentagon and the U.S. Africa Command would be engaged in the conversations related to the removal process.



Protesters gather as a man holds up a sign demanding that soldiers from the United States Army leave Niger without negotiation during a demonstration in Niamey, on April 13, 2024. (AFP via Getty Images)

"The DoD is providing a small delegation from the Pentagon and U.S. Africa Command to participate in the discussions. In terms of departure timing, we do not want to speculate and get ahead of the planning discussions," the official said.

The planned departure, which some experts view as a blow to Washington and its allies in the region in terms of staging security operations in the Sahel, comes as U.S. officials said they were trying to find a new military agreement.

Niger plays a central role in the U.S. military’s operations in Africa’s Sahel region, an area on the edge of the Sahara Desert. Washington is concerned about the spread of jihadi violence, where local groups have pledged allegiance to al-Qaida and the Islamic State groups.

Niger is home to a major U.S. air base in the city of Agadez, about 550 miles from the country's capital of Niamey. The air base has been used for manned and unmanned surveillance flights and other operations. The U.S. has also invested hundreds of millions of dollars in training Niger’s military since it began operations there in 2013.


Niger's prime minister

Niger's Prime Minister Ali Mahaman Lamine Zeine speaks during a press conference in Niamey on September 4, 2023. (Photo by -/AFP via Getty Images)

But relations have frayed between Niger and Western countries since mutinous soldiers ousted the country’s democratically elected president in July. Niger’s junta has since told French forces to leave and turned instead to Russia for security. Earlier this month, Russian military trainers arrived to reinforce the country’s air defenses and with Russian equipment to train Nigeriens to use.

There was an attempt on the behalf of the U.S. to revise the military agreement with Niger that would allow them to stay, U.S. officials told The Associated Press. However, the agreement between Ali Lamine Zeine, Niger's prime minister, and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell shows that the effort has failed.

The loss of access to air bases in Niger is a major setback for the U.S. and its allies in the region because of its strategic location for security operations in the Sahel, Peter Pham, the former U.S. special envoy for the Sahel region, said, according to The Associated Press.

"In the short term, they will be hard to replace," said Pham, adding that remaining European Union military presence would likely pull out of Niger following the news of a U.S. departure.

Nigerian labor protest

Nigerian labor unionists march in protest of economic turmoil on the streets of Lagos, Nigeria, on Feb. 27, 2024. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)

The rupture of relations between the two nations would impact the development and humanitarian aid funds destined for Niger, a country at the bottom of many indicators of well-being, Pham said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Kyle Morris covers politics for Fox News. Story tips can be sent via email and on X: @RealKyleMorris.

Authored by Kyle Morris via FoxNews April 20th 2024