US Repositions Troops In Niger, Pulls Non-essential Personnel

In response to the ongoing instability following the coup in July, the Pentagon has initiated significant changes to the deployment of American military assets in Niger. On Thursday, U.S. officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, revealed that troops and equipment are being repositioned within Niger, alongside the withdrawal of non-essential personnel. While specific numbers regarding the personnel departure and repositioning remain undisclosed, it is known that these movements involve Air Base 101 in Niamey, Niger’s capital, and Air Base 201 in Agadez.

Prior to these developments, approximately 1,100 U.S. troops were stationed in Niger. Officials have emphasized that these actions are part of a strategic move to safeguard American assets while maintaining efforts to combat violent extremism in the region. They underlined that this does not signal an overall shift in the U.S. force posture in Niger, and further reviews of options are ongoing. These changes have been coordinated with the necessary authorities.

Despite the discrete nature of these movements, the exact rationale behind them remains undisclosed. Nevertheless, consolidating assets in one location can enhance evacuation capabilities, although there is no immediate indication of such a need.

Over the past decade, U.S. troops have been engaged in training Niger’s forces in counter-terrorism and executing drone missions against Islamic State and al Qaeda affiliates in the region. Following the coup, certain foreign assistance programs and military training in Niger were paused, with troops primarily confined to their bases.

Notably, the U.S. administration, under President Joe Biden, has refrained from officially categorizing the events in Niger as a coup, which would limit the extent of security assistance that Washington can provide to the country. Officials have voiced concerns over the coup’s impact on Niger’s security, potentially creating opportunities for terrorist or malign groups to exploit.

The United States has been actively advocating for a diplomatic resolution to the crisis that unfolded when military officers seized power on July 26, leading to the ousting of President Mohamed Bazoum, who remains under house arrest. The newly appointed U.S. Ambassador to Niger, Kathleen FitzGibbon, only arrived in the capital, Niamey, the previous month.

Air Base 201, also known as the U.S. drone base, was constructed near Agadez in central Niger at a cost exceeding $100 million. Since 2018, it has played a pivotal role in targeting Islamic State and the al Qaeda affiliate Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM) in the Sahel region. Its significance has grown due to the limited presence of Western security partners in the area.

Additionally, neighboring countries, Mali and Burkina Faso, have experienced military coups in recent years, adding to regional instability. The departure of over 2,000 French troops from Mali last year and the planned shutdown of a 13,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force by the end of the year, following the junta’s request for withdrawal, have raised concerns. France, Niger’s former colonial power, maintains troops in the country but has resisted calls by coup leaders to withdraw its 1,500 troops.