U.S. forces to withdraw from Niger by mid-September

A U.S. Army Special Forces weapons sergeant speaks to a group of Nigerian soldiers during Exercise Flintrock 2017 in March in Diffa, Niger. Following more than a decade in the country, the U.S. military announced Sunday that it will withdraw from Niger by mid-September. Photo by Spec. Zayid Ballesteros/U.S. Army

May 19 (UPI) -- U.S. forces will withdraw from Niger by mid-September, their two militaries said Sunday, as U.S. officials voice optimism that military and diplomatic relations between the two countries can be reforged in the weeks and months to come.

The withdrawal, which has already begun, is to be completed no later than Sept. 15, the U.S. Defense Department and Nigeria's Ministry of National Defense said.

Under the agreement -- produced following five days of negotiations in Niamey -- Nigeria has committed to protect U.S. forces to help ensure their safe withdrawal.

"The withdrawal of U.S. forces from Niger does not affect the continuation of U.S.-Niger development relations," the two militaries said in a joint statement.

"The United States and Niger are committed to ongoing diplomatic dialogue to define the future of their bilateral relations."

Niger has been an important ally to the United States for more than a decade in its fight against terrorism in the Sahel region and was home to the largest U.S. military presence on the continent at more than 1,000 troops, according to the Congressional Research Service.

But in July 2023, Niger's U.S.-aligned democratic government fell to a military coup as have several West African nations in the past few years. Then in March 2024, the Russia-friendly junta rescinded its state of forces agreement with the United States that laid the foundation for the U.S. military's presence in the country.

Since the coup, Niger has grown closer to both Russia and Iran, sparking worries in Washington. Earlier this month, the U.S. Defense Department acknowledged that U.S. and Russian soldiers were cohabitating on the same Niger base but in separate hangars.

Senior U.S. officials told reporters from Niamey that the U.S. forces will be re-posturing in the region and look for a different approach to conducting counterterrorism, while stating that both sides are seeking to maintain military and diplomatic relations.

Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell is to visit the African nation in the weeks and months to come to discussion bilateral relations, they said.

"They are very clear, at least at the seniorest, most military levels, that they want to maintain a relationship with us," a senior defense official said.

They suggested that in the absence of the French military and now that of the U.S., Niger will be able to take stock of its actual counterterrorism capabilities.

"I think time will tell, unfortunately," the defense official said.

A senior military official reiterated that at least on the military side, Niger emphasized that they didn't see this withdrawal as the end of their relationship "but that a new relationship needed to be negotiated" based on the wants of the junta, know as the National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland.