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U.S. relations with former key ally in African crisis region hit new low

In this image taken from video provided by ORTN, Col. Maj. Amadou Abdramane, front center, makes a statement late Wednesday, July 26, 2023, in Niamey, Niger   -  
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Diplomatic and military relations between the United States and the West African nation of Niger hit a new low this weekend.

In a statement on state television, a spokesman for Niger's junta said Saturday the U.S. military presence in the country is no longer justified. The announcement followed high-level talks with U.S. diplomatic and military officials this week.

Niger plays a central role in the U.S. military’s operations in Africa's Sahel region and is home to a major airbase. The U.S. is concerned about the spread of jihadist violence in the region, where local groups have pledged allegiance to al-Qaida and the Islamic State extremist groups.

In reading the statement, the junta's spokesman, Col. Maj. Amadou Abdramane, stopped short of saying U.S. forces should leave. He said Niger was suspending military cooperation with Washington and added that U.S. flights over the country’s territory in recent weeks were illegal.

The U.S. military in recent years began operating a major airbase in the Niger city of Agadez, some 920 kilometers (550 miles) from the capital of Niamey, using it for manned and unmanned surveillance flights and other operations.

The U.S. has also invested for years hundreds of millions of dollars in training Niger's military. Some of those forces were involved in the July overthrow of Niger's democratically elected president, Mohammed Bazoum.

In October, Washington officially designated the military takeover as a coup, which triggered U.S. laws restricting the military support and aid that it can provide to Niger. But in December, the top U.S. envoy for Africa, Molly Phee, said the U.S. was willing to restore aid and security ties if Niger met certain conditions.

The Niger junta spokesman said the U.S. tone was condescending and threatened Niger's sovereignty. Since the July coup, the country has ended its security partnership with the European Union and France has withdrawn its troops from the country.

Phee and Marine Gen. Michael Langley, head of the U.S. military's African Command, were in Niamey this week to meet with senior Niger government officials. Phee did not respond to emailed requests for comment.

The U.S. military had some 650 personnel working in Niger in December, according to a White House report to Congress.

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