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Niger, a country in West Africa, has recently ordered the United States to withdraw its military troops, numbering close to 1,000, branding their presence as “illegal”. This decision comes as Niger’s military government, which came into power last year, has strengthened ties with Russia while pulling back from traditional allies such as the US and France. The US has agreed to remove all its troops by September 15, following a recent agreement between Niger’s defense ministry and the US Department of Defense. Despite the troop withdrawal, both countries remain committed to ongoing diplomatic dialogue and cooperation in the area of development.

The decision for US troops to leave Niger comes after the military government took power in July 2023 and began seeking security assistance from Russian mercenary group Wagner, following the expulsion of French forces and the designation of the military takeover as a coup by the US in October. This move has led to the termination of a military cooperation agreement with the US, as the presence of American soldiers is now considered illegal. Concerns by Washington about Niger’s potential relations with Russia and Iran have also played a role in this decision. Similar shifts towards Russia have been observed in neighbouring countries such as Burkina Faso and Mali.

The withdrawal of American forces from Niger has already begun, with US troops and equipment being removed from the country. While the focus is on taking out lethal, hazardous, or classified equipment, some items deemed too expensive to transport may be left behind for the Nigerien military to use. Niger has been a key partner in US counterterrorism efforts in the Sahel region over the past decade, and the departure of American troops raises questions about how to fill this gap. The Pentagon and Nigerien defense officials have emphasized the importance of protecting US troops during their withdrawal process.

Public opinion in Niger has been generally hostile towards the presence of foreign forces in the country, with a survey indicating that about two-thirds of Nigeriens disagreed with the government’s use of foreign military forces for security purposes in 2022. The military government’s decision to strengthen ties with Russia and distance itself from Western allies reflects this sentiment among the Nigerien population. The ongoing political and security dynamics in the region, including the presence of armed groups in the Sahel, play a role in shaping Niger’s foreign policy choices and relations with other countries.

The withdrawal of US troops from Niger raises questions about the impact on bilateral relations between the two countries, as well as on security efforts in the Sahel region. The shift towards Russia and the expulsion of Western forces indicate a broader trend of realignment in the region, with countries like Niger seeking new partnerships and security arrangements. The US and Niger remain committed to maintaining diplomatic dialogue and cooperation in areas such as development, despite the withdrawal of American troops. The future direction of US-Niger relations and the security landscape in the Sahel will likely be influenced by these recent developments and ongoing geopolitical shifts in the region.

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