US Vacates Base in Niger, a Step Closer to Pulling Out All Troops

Bill Pan
By Bill Pan
July 8, 2024Africa
US Vacates Base in Niger, a Step Closer to Pulling Out All Troops
Maj. Gen. Kenneth P. Ekman speaks to military members in front of a "Welcome to Niamey" sign depicting U.S. military vehicles at Air Base 101 in Niger, on May 30, 2024. (Tech. Sgt. Christopher Dyer, U.S. Air Force via AP)

The United States has completed the withdrawal of troops from a base in Niger’s capital of Niamey, a step closer to the full departure of U.S. forces at the request of the military junta ruling the West African country.

Cargo aircraft carrying the last batch of American troops and equipment took off from Air Base 101, U.S. and Nigerien defense officials said in a joint statement issued on July 8.

The U.S. military has relied on the base for operations against “violent extremism” in the Sahel, a belt of land spanning the width of Africa and separating the Sahara Desert in the north from the tropics to the south, according to the U.S. Africa Command.

“Designated as a Cooperative Security Location by the U.S. military, this Nigerien base has housed U.S. personnel and assets to help counter violent extremist organizations in the region,” the command stated.

The western part of the Sahel consists of six francophone countries—Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Senegal. Home to more than 100 million people, these countries have long been plagued by poverty, poor governance, and widespread armed conflicts involving insurgencies affiliated with global terrorist networks such as al-Qaeda and ISIS.

Despite years of military intervention and humanitarian assistance provided by Washington and its allies, the situation continues to deteriorate. According to the United Nations, an estimated 3.7 million people were internally displaced across the Sahel at the end of 2023, with more than half a million becoming refugees in neighboring countries.

The frequent transfers of power also make it harder for aid to reach those in need. The Pentagon has stated that its ability to operate in the Sahel was reduced by successive military coups, including those in Mali in 2020, Burkina Faso in 2022, and Niger in 2023.

In May, Niger’s new leadership reached an agreement with Washington, setting a Sept. 15 deadline for the complete withdrawal of nearly 1,000 U.S. troops from the country. The military junta had already ordered France, Niger’s former colonial master and long-time security ally, to do the same.

“With the closure of the U.S. compound on Air Base 101, U.S. forces will now focus on completing the withdrawal from Air Base 201 in Agadez,” the U.S. and Nigerien officials said on July 8.

Built in 2018 at a cost of $110 million, Air Base 201 features a runway for MQ-9 “Reaper” drones and manned aircraft. The base has since been used to conduct drone strikes on terrorist groups such as Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen and ISIS in the Greater Sahara.

“The effective cooperation and communication between the U.S. and Nigerien armed forces ensured that this turnover was finished ahead of schedule and without any complications,” the officials said, reiterating their commitment to completing a “safe, orderly, and responsible withdrawal” by September.

“The U.S. Department of Defense and the Nigerien Ministry of National Defense recognize the joint sacrifices made by both nations’ forces.”

As Niger works to expel Western forces from the country, Russia has seized the opportunity to present itself as a new security partner, dispatching military instructors to help train Niger’s military.

From The Epoch Times