The US could begin withdrawing troops from Niger in the coming weeks, according to two US officials, which would mark a significant change to the American military presence in the country following a coup that toppled the democratically elected government in Niamey in late July.
Ultimately, as many as half of the 1,100 troops stationed in Niger could be pulled from the country, two officials said. A final decision to withdraw troops from Niger has not yet been made, the officials said, and the number of troops that could leave has not been determined.
After the military coup took down the government six weeks ago, the US maintained its military footprint in Niger, keeping US troops stationed at two air bases and at the embassy in Niamey. But a transfer of troops from one base to another could compel the military to pull some troops from Niger.
The issue is essentially a capacity problem, three US officials said.
The Pentagon announced on Thursday that troops from Air Base 101 near the capital of Niamey would be relocating to Air Base 201 near Agadez “out of an abundance of caution” following the military takeover of the country.
But Base 201, from which the US operates drones, is much smaller and does not have the capacity to house all of the troops, the officials said, so some will have to leave the country.
The removal of some troops from Niger could start in the coming weeks, one official said, and the pace at which it happens depends on conditions on the ground.
Even so, the Pentagon’s goal is to maintain a military presence in Niger “for as long as possible,” the official said.
Niger is a critical hub from which the US conducts intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) flights in the region, allowing the military to monitor violent extremist activity in hotspots such as neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso. After pausing the ISR drone flights in late-July because of the coup, the US has now begun intermittent ISR flights once again, one official familiar with the matter said.
CNN previously reported that the Biden administration had been searching for ways to keep US forces and assets in Niger to continue anti-terror operations, even as it became increasingly unlikely that the military junta that overthrew the country’s government in July will cede power back to the democratically elected president.
Politico first reported on the possible reduction of US troops in Niger.
On Thursday, the Defense Department announced that some non-essential personnel and contractors would be leaving Niger. In addition, some troops from Air Base 101 near the capital of Niamey would relocate to Air Base 201 in Agadez. The move was done in coordination with the Nigerien military.
“Our position remains the same that we hope that the situation on the ground gets resolved diplomatically but would just reemphasize that there’s no immediate threat to US personnel or violence on the ground,” Deputy Press Secretary Sabrina Singh said at a news briefing Thursday.