US reaches agreement with Niger to withdraw military forces by September 15

The US has reached an agreement with Niger to withdraw its military forces from the African nation by September 15, according to the US Defense Department and the Nigerien Ministry of National Defense.

The newly agreed deadline gives the US four months to drawdown fewer than 1,000 troops who remain in the country, as well as their equipment, which includes MQ-9 Reaper drones and other assets.

But even as the deadline looms, US officials see potential for a relationship with Niger. “They want to maintain a relationship with us,” a senior defense official said, “and that relationship is certainly informed by where we’ve been with them.”

Niger’s military government announced in March that it had ended an accord with the US that allowed military personnel and civilian staff from the Department of Defense to operate in the country.

The US delegation met with Niger’s ruling military junta last week to try to reach an agreement that would allow for the secure withdrawal of US forces and for clearances for military flights. The flight clearances had been a sticking point in the sensitive negotiations needed to withdraw US forces. Until now, US troops who have left Niger took commercial flights, including as recently as last week, according to US officials. The remaining troops on the ground are tasked with drawing down US personnel and equipment still in Niger.

The Defense Department has worked with the Nigerien military for more than a decade, focusing its efforts on counterterrorism in West Africa. The US previously operated out of two base – Agadez and Niamey – that allowed the Pentagon to carry out surveillance and reconnaissance missions with drones. Now, US forces are limited to the base in the capital of Niamey, where Russian forces have already begun operating.

“Niger has been really an anchor for our counterterrorism efforts over a decade,” said the defense official, who said conversations on future cooperation are ongoing.

But what that coordination looks like is an open question, especially as the US has already begun removing some of the 1,100 military personnel operating in the country. Defense officials painted an optimistic picture of a potential future relationship with Niger given the military junta’s demand that the US withdraws its forces from the country.

The Nigerien military “did not see this as the closing of the relationship,” said a senior military official. The senior defense official and senior military official briefed reporters Sunday afternoon, following a series of meetings between US and Nigerien officials about the withdrawal.

The US delegation was led by Chris Meier, the assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict. The Nigerien delegation was led by Col.-Maj. Mamane Sani Kiaou, the chief of staff of the Nigerian army.

“Both delegations confirmed the guarantees of protection and security to the American forces during their withdrawal. The delegations also established procedures to facilitate the entry and exit of U.S. personnel, including overflight and landing clearances for military flights,” the joint statement said.

The US is still evaluating what military equipment will be left in Niger. “Obviously sensitive equipment, lethal equipment, hazardous equipment – these kinds of things will be removed,” the defense official said.

Much of what the US anticipates leaving behind will not be “terribly mobile,” the official said, describing it as housing equipment and other kinds of life support.

While Russian forces have been operating at the same base from which US forces are withdrawing, the US officials said they consider it unlikely that American equipment might fall into Russian hands.

“We got the strong sense in the conversations that they do not intend to share what equipment is left behind with any other party that might be here or in the future,” the defense official said. “At least for the time being.”

The US and Niger said in their joint statement they would continue to work together on areas of “common interest.”

“The United States and Niger are committed to ongoing diplomatic dialogue to define the future of their bilateral relations,” the statement said.

This story has been updated with additional information.

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