US to complete withdrawal from Niger Air Base on Sunday amid Russian deployment

The United States military is poised to finalize the withdrawal of its personnel from Niger’s Air Base 101 in Niamey by Sunday, with plans to shift focus to a major drone base exit in the following weeks, according to a U.S. general on Friday.

Following an order from Niger’s ruling junta in April, the U.S. is pulling nearly 1,000 military personnel out of the country, marking a significant setback for Washington after last year’s coup in Niger.

Before the coup, Niger had been a crucial ally in the U.S.’s efforts against insurgents in the Sahel region, where thousands have been killed and millions displaced.

The U.S. is now searching for alternative strategies in West Africa, though the process is slow, and officials warn that intelligence on extremist groups in the region is deteriorating.

Air Force Major General Kenneth Ekman, overseeing the withdrawal, announced the completion of the Air Base 101 exit would be marked by a joint ceremony on Sunday evening. The base is adjacent to Niamey’s Diori Hamani International Airport.

“We will have a joint ceremony to mark the departure of the last U.S. C-17 aircraft. The Niger government will take control of former U.S. facilities,” Ekman stated via video conference.

Meanwhile, Russia has stationed military forces at the same base for training purposes. Ekman noted there has been no interaction between U.S. and Russian personnel, with assurances from Niger that the two forces will remain separate.

“In discussions with Niger officials, they indicated the Russian presence is under 100 personnel, and once training is complete, the Russians are expected to leave,” Ekman added.

Since 2020, military coups in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger have resulted in juntas severing defense agreements with the U.S., France, and the U.N., citing failures of civilian leaders to curb Islamist militancy.

Niger’s military leaders have given the U.S. until September 15 to withdraw, which includes vacating a $100-million drone base near Agadez that has been vital for intelligence on al Qaeda and Islamic State affiliates.

Ekman mentioned the exit from Air Base 201 could be completed sooner than expected, potentially next month.

“Now our efforts are focused on Air Base 201,” he said.

Regarding the morale of U.S. troops, Ekman admitted it was mixed during his visits to the two bases.

“When meeting with airmen and soldiers, reactions ranged from laughter to tears, reflecting the uncertainty of the past year,” he said.

U.S. military officials hope to maintain some future security relationship with Niger, despite the withdrawal, acknowledging the long-term investment in military ties.

“What’s happened here is truly unfortunate given the long history of U.S.-Nigerian partnership,” Ekman stated. “We’ve enjoyed over 15 years of close collaboration on mutual security goals. Our aim has been to withdraw responsibly, swiftly, and amicably.”

The U.S. is removing valuable equipment, such as power generators, but leaving the bases in good condition.

“If we departed and left a mess or destroyed facilities, we’d be limiting future options for both nations. Our security goals remain interconnected,” Ekman concluded.

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