An airman marshals a C-130J Super Hercules at Nigerien Air Base 201, Agadez, Niger, Aug. 3, 2019. (Staff Sgt. Devin Boyer/U.S. Air Force).

The United States and Niger reached an agreement to withdraw the roughly 1,000 American military troops from the African country.

The news came from a joint announcement by the U.S. and Niger. The “two nations reached a disengagement agreement to effect the withdrawal of U.S. forces, which has already begun,” they announced earlier on May 19. According to the agreement, all U.S. troops will leave by Sept. 15, 2024, ending a long presence in the country. For years Niger had been a focal point of U.S. counterterrorism in West Africa and the Sahel, home to two important air bases used by American forces. 

The decision, the announcement said, came from days of negotiations in the Nigerien capital of Niamey. In March, Niger’s military junta, the National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland

(AKA the CNSP, after the French spelling), announced that it was expelling American troops from the country. The CNSP, which took power in a coup in July 2023, previously expelled the French military, which left at the end of that year. Niger is one of several West African countries to be taken over by a junta, others being Burkina Faso and Mali. 

Currently there are less than 1,000 American military personnel in Niger, officials said. Withdrawal has already started, with approximately 100 military personnel having already departed. 

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The new withdrawal deal comes with several safeguards and guarantees from Niger, according to a senior defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Those guarantees include force protection, diplomatic clearances and other measures meant to enable the U.S. to safely and orderly withdraw. The same official said that the U.S. expects to complete its withdrawal before the Sept. 15 deadline. Weapons and personnel will leave, although larger, immobile equipment such as living spaces and hangers are likely to stay. Most of the withdrawal of equipment and troops will be done by air, which will also limit what can be taken out of the country. However anything that can be removed will be, officials said. 

The U.S. military has had an extensive presence in Niger for years. Outside of providing military advisors, the U.S. operates two air bases in the country. Air Base 101 is located in Niamey. The other, Air Base 201 in the desert town of Agadez, is a major part of the U.S. counter-terrorism strategy in Africa, serving as a launching point for aerial drones used in West Africa. Since the July coup, American counterterrorism operations from the base essentially stopped, with drones taking to the sky only for reconnaissance missions aimed at protecting U.S. forces. 

Protesters react as a man holds up a sign demanding that soldiers from the United States Army leave Niger without negotiation during a demonstration in Niamey, on April 13, 2024. Thousands of people demonstrated on April 13, 2024 in Niger's capital Niamey to demand the immediate departure of American soldiers based in northern Niger, after the military regime said it was withdrawing from a 2012 cooperation deal with Washington. (Photo by AFP) (Photo by -/AFP via Getty Images)
Protesters react as a man holds up a sign demanding that soldiers from the United States Army leave Niger without negotiation during a demonstration in Niamey, on April 13, 2024. Thousands of people demonstrated on April 13, 2024 in Niger’s capital Niamey to demand the immediate departure of American soldiers based in northern Niger, after the military regime said it was withdrawing from a 2012 cooperation deal with Washington. (Photo by AFP) (Photo by -/AFP via Getty Images)

The senior defense official stressed that the talks in NIamey were military to military. Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict Christopher Maier and the Director of Joint Force Development in the Joint Chiefs of Staff Lt. Gen. Dagvin Anderson led the American delegation in negotiations, talking with Nigerien military leaders (officials specified these were Ministry of National Defense leaders, not CNSP council members). The talks focused solely on the U.S. military’s presence, staying out of wider policy discussions. Although U.S. forces are leaving Niger, the American embassy will remain open and U.S. diplomatic operations will continue. 

Earlier this month, Russian troops, military advisors welcomed by the CNSP, were reported to be on the air base in Niamey. The senior defense official said they were not aware of the specific locations of Russian forces in Niger, but also said they do not expect Niger to welcome Russia in to fill the void left by American and French troops. Officials noted that Niger’s military did not rule out future cooperation.

The senior military official said that although joint operations with the U.S. have stopped, Niger’s special operations forces have continued to carry out counterterrorism missions on their own. The U.S. aims to maintain relations with Niger and has shared intelligence with its defense ministry since the coup. Officials said that it is unclear when American counterterrorism operations in the region will return to where they were prior to the CNSP’s coup. 

It’s currently unclear where American troops and equipment will relocate to after leaving Niger. 

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