US loses strategic influence in Niger to Russia, Iran

Thursday May 16 2024

People gather in a street to protest against the US military presence in Niamey, Niger on April 13, 2024. PHOTO | REUTERS


A US delegation is discussing the withdrawal of its troops from military-led Niger as Washington prepares to abandon its strategic position in the Sahel where Russia and Iran are gaining ground.

The demand for US troops to exit comes after French troops were also forced to withdraw last year by Niger's new ruling generals following a July coup.

Niger announced in March it was ending a military cooperation agreement with Washington, claiming the presence of US soldiers was now "illegal".

Niger has been a key base for counter-terrorism operations in West Africa, with a major US drone base near the northern city of Agadez that cost a reported $100 million to build.

Read: Russia army enter base housing US military in Niger

Since 2019, Washington has used drones and aircraft to carry out surveillance missions from the air base on Agadez's outskirts.


The missions span a vast region where armed groups, particularly jihadists, operate. Drug, human and arms trafficking is also common.

US military service Reaper drones have been flying as far as the borders of neighboring Libya, Chad, Nigeria and Mali which have limited aerial surveillance capabilities.

Niger demanded the US troop pull-out after Washington expressed concern about "potential” relations between the country, Russia and Iran.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Vedant Patel, the US State Department’s deputy spokesperson said Washington and Niger’s military governing National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland, CNSP, “have not been able to come to an understanding that would allow the United States to maintain its military presence in Niger.”

“We’re currently working with the CNSP to withdraw US forces in an orderly and responsible fashion,” Patel added.

When asked about the timeline for the withdrawal, Patel said “I don’t have any visits to preview at this time, but I imagine these conversations are going to be ongoing.”

Following Niger’s military coup and subsequent breakaway from Western countries, Niamey chose to strengthen its relations with Russia — a move followed by neighbouring junta led nation’s Burkina Faso and Mali.

Read: Niger-US military ties end a bad move for Sahel

Iran joined Russia in strengthening its relations with Niger. The Asian nation has significantly increased its stock of enriched uranium in recent months, a chemical element produced by Niamey in bulk.

Niger’s Prime Minister Ali Mahaman Lamine Zeine told the Washington Post in an interview published this month that a US official threatened Niamey with sanctions if it signed an agreement to sell the uranium it produces to Iran.

Zeine said that "absolutely nothing" had been signed with Iran on uranium.

"The Americans stayed on our soil, doing nothing while the terrorists killed people and burned towns," Zeine said.

US soldiers deployed in Niger were estimated to number 650 by the end of 2023, as well as hundreds of contractors. Some troops are stationed at an air base in the capital Niamey with other foreign troops, as well as in the Agadez base.

The United States repositioned some of its troops from Niamey to Agadez in what it said was a precautionary move after the coup.

Prior to Niger’s coup, US special forces had been working alongside the Nigerien army to fight jihadist groups. Washington suspended all military cooperation following the takeover by Abdourahamane Tchiani, the junta’s leader and the president of the CNSP.

In October 2017, four American soldiers and five Nigerien soldiers were killed in an ambush by the Islamic State group in the village of Tongo near the Malian border.

Read: US says Niger military staged coup, slashes aid

US drones were also supporting the Nigerian army against Boko Haram and rival Islamic State West Africa Province, Iswap militias in the southeast close to Nigeria.

In September, US intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations resumed solely to protect American forces, according to the Department of Defense.

Nigerien public opinion has long been hostile to the presence of foreign forces.

In 2022, around two-thirds of Nigeriens disagreed with government use of foreign military forces to secure the country, according to an Afrobarometer survey.

Nigerien civil society leader Amodi Arrandishou told French media outlet AFP said in terms of security, "the Agadez region finds no use for the presence of the Americans."