US withdraws troops from Niger, adjusts military layout in Africa


China Military Online
Li Jiayao
2024-05-08 10:08:14

By Li Hai


The US Department of Defense announced on April 25 that the US will withdraw most of its troops from Niger. More than 1,000 US troops are deployed in Niger at present. According to the Associated Press, the US is seeking to reach an agreement with the Nigerian government in a view to maintain a certain military presence in the country.


After the 9/11 attacks, the foremost concern of the US on military layout in Africa has been combating terrorist forces. In the wake of the turmoil in West Asia and North Africa in 2011, terrorists increasingly relocated and expanded to the Sahel region, which resulted in enlarged anti-terrorist inputs from the US and Europe in the region.


Niger has been a key security partner of the US in the Sahel region in recent years. In 2015, the US signed a military cooperation agreement with Niger, allocating over 100 million USD to build Agadez, a central city of Niger, into the US military's largest drone base in West Africa in the name of counter-terrorism. The number of the US military personnel in Niger accounts for about one-fifth of its total military presence in Africa.


In July 2023, a sudden coup occurred in Niger, and the newly established junta and the local population in the country believed that the regional counter-terrorist strategy led by the US and Europe was not effective, and had the potential risk to cherish a snake in their bosom. France, known as an African gendarmerie, first received a rigid order to depart and evacuated all its 1500 troops more or less in Niger in December 2023. To avoid being affected by this, the US intentionally distanced itself from France and even exploited the situation to seize control of France's traditional spheres of influence by repeatedly sending high-level delegations for lobbying in Niger.


However, in mid-March, immediately after the departure of the US delegation that visited Niger to discuss the normalization of their bilateral relations, the Nigerian junta issued a statement strongly condemning the US delegation's arrogant and patronizing attitude, accusing the US of arbitrary interference in its internal affairs, and formally announcing cancellation of its military cooperation agreement with the US. Likewise, Chad in the same region has also demanded the withdrawal of US troops recently. The chief of staff of the Chadian Air Force has sent a letter to the US military attaché in Chad questioning the justification for the US military deployment and urging the expeditious evacuation of more than 100 US special forces stationed at the French military base in N'Djamena.


With the estrangement of former partners, the US may be compelled to remove all its forces from the Sahel region. Some critics have argued that the US may accelerate to shift the focus of its military layout in Africa towards the coastal areas of West Africa. The reason lies in that the US officials believe that the elevated influence of Russia and other countries in Africa poses greater threats to the US than terrorist organizations, and that the focus of the US military strategy in Africa should gradually transition from counter-terrorism to great power gaming. To expedite this strategic shift, the Biden administration has proposed the US Strategy to Prevent Conflict and Promote Stability 10-Year Plan for Coastal West Africa.


In January 2024, the US military started engagement with countries in West Africa including Cote d'Ivoire, Benin and Ghana to negotiate on undertaking the drone base projects. In March, following Niger's announcement to rescind its military cooperation agreement with the US, the US Department of State sent diplomatic notes to the governments of 15 countries in West Africa, pledging that its military assistance to the Sahel region will be shifted to the coastal areas of West Africa to help the regional countries enhance their counter-terrorism capabilities. It can be seen that despite the reluctance in making the decision, the US departure from Niger aligns with the general direction of its strategic adjustment in Africa to some extent, and the US still has a card up its sleeve.


Nonetheless, this will also severely undermine the US’ capabilities to conduct military operations in the heartland of the African continent, particularly its intelligence monitoring activities in North and West Africa. Meanwhile, this also exposes that as the US is deeply distracted by the great power competition strategy and hot issues like Russia-Ukraine conflict, Palestinian-Israeli conflict and even divergences in the Indo-Pacific region, it can only allocate very limited military resources for Africa.


More importantly, the US has adjusted its military deployment in Africa with great power competition as the focal point and continues to cloak its actions under the pretext of counter-terrorism, while practically using military assistance to coerce African countries into taking sides in the rivalry between major powers. Such an approach will only elicit a backlash, triggering new resentment in the stationed countries and inevitably repeating its mistakes in Niger in the end.


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