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US holds out hope for partnership with Niger

US holds out hope for partnership with Niger
Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin at the Pentagon, 14 March 2024, Washington   -  
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Kevin Wolf/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved


The Pentagon is working with Nigerien authorities to find a way to keep U.S. troops in the country - a key base for counterterrorism operations in sub-Saharan Africa - following a weekend directive ordering them to leave the country.

Last week, a high-level delegation of U.S. officials, including Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Molly Phee, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Celeste Wallander and Head of State Command -United for Africa, General Michael Langley, travelled to Niger to meet members of the military junta.

Pentagon deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh said Monday that U.S. officials had "lengthy and direct" discussions with junta members, discussions that were partly motivated by concerns about Niger's potential relations. with Russia and Iran. “ We were troubled by the path Niger has taken,” said Sabrina Singh.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the United States is closely monitoring Russia's defense activities there to assess and mitigate potential risks to personnel, American interests and property.

On Saturday, following the meeting, junta spokesperson Colonel -Major Amadou Abdramane said US flights over Nigerien territory in recent weeks were illegal. Insa Garba Saidou, a local activist who assists Niger's military leaders with their communications, criticized U.S. efforts to force the junta to choose between its strategic partners.

“American bases and civilian personnel can no longer remain on Nigerien soil,” he told the Associated Press.

Sabrina Singh said the United States is aware of the March 16 statement "announcing the end of the status of forces agreement between Niger and the United States. We are working through diplomatic channels to seek clarification "These are ongoing discussions and we have nothing further to share at this time. "

State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel said the discussions were driven by Niger's "trajectory." “We are in contact with the transitional authorities to seek clarification on their comments and to discuss next steps,” Mr Patel said.

The junta has largely controlled Niger since July, when mutinous soldiers ousted the country's democratically elected president and, months later, demanded French forces leave the country.

The U.S. military still had some 650 troops in Niger as of December, largely concentrated at a base further from Niamey, Niger's capital. Sabrina Singh said the total number of people still in the country, including civilians and contractors, was around 1,000.

The Niger base is critical to US counterterrorism operations in the Sahel and has been used for manned and unmanned surveillance operations, although Singh said the only drone flights currently being conducted are for force protection.

In the Sahel, the United States also supported local troops on the ground, in particular by accompanying them in their missions. However, these accompanied missions have been reduced since American soldiers were killed during a joint operation in Niger in 2017.

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