United States finalising evacuation plans of its drone bases in Niger as West African bloc says D-Day decided
Niger deploys forces to border with Nigeria and Benin
The Pentagon is drawing up plans for a potential withdrawal of its 1,100 troops from Niger, a counterterrorism ally in West Africa that is in the throes of a coup, the commander of U.S. air forces in Europe and Africa said Friday.
There are no immediate plans for military personnel to evacuate the country and abandon the two drone bases operated by U.S. forces in Niger’s northern desert, said Air Force Gen. James Hecker adding that preparations are underway in case troops are ordered to leave.
“We’re going to play it out, we’re doing a lot of prudent planning,” Hecker said at a Defense Writers Group discussion with reporters. “But hopefully this thing gets done politically and diplomatically with no bloodshed.”
On Thursday it was reported that the military junta has sent troops to the border with Benin and Nigeria, as they are facing a potential invasion by the forces of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Maliactu news website reported, citing Niger’s National Council for the Safeguarding of the Country (CNSP)a body formed by the junta.
Eyewitnesses reported Niger’s troops were on the move in the town of Gaya near the border with Benin, according to the website. People welcomed the soldiers. Troops also redeployed through the town of Konni, 400 kilometers from Niger’s capital Niamey.
On Friday at the conclusion of the two day ECOWAS Chiefs of Defence Staff meeting held in Accra the Ghanaian capital, the bloc said it will send another diplomatic mission to Niger on Saturday, though previous delegations have failed to meet the country’s new strongman.
Members of the 409th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron, Quick Reaction Force, maintain security while conducting a joint patrol with the Niger Armed Forces on Jan. 6, 2023. (Michael Matkin/Air Force)
“Tomorrow there is the possibility of an ECOWAS mission going into Niger to continue to pursue the peaceful path to restoration of constitutional order. We are ready to resolve the issue peacefully but it takes two to tango,” Abdel-Fatau Musah, the ECOWAS commissioner for political affairs and security said.
Musah also confirmed that an ECOWAS force is ready to intervene in Niger once the ECOWAS chair, Nigerian President Bola Tinubu gives the order.
“We are ready to go anytime the order is given. The D-Day is also decided,” he stressed.
Earlier the Nigerian president warned the Niger military there will be “grave consequences” if the health of ousted President Mohamed Bazoum is allowed to worsen while in their custody during a phone call with EU chief Charles Michel.
The US has so far resisted designating the situation in Niger as a coup, which would trigger cuts in military assistance and other American aid. Hecker said Friday that he believes a decision on whether to withdraw is still weeks, if not months, away.
Washington has since ordered a pullout of many U.S. Embassy personnel in Niger, suspended drone and training flights, and constrained American troops to bases.
The US first deployed troops to Niger in 2013, when 100 service members were sent to the country’s capital to help French forces set up unarmed surveillance drone operations to battle al-Qaida and its affiliates in Mali. The country is now a critical part of combating terrorism in the Sahel, a region of Africa where Islamist militancy has been on the rise.
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In 2017, four American soldiers, their interpreter and four Nigerien soldiers were killed in a terrorist ambush in the deserts of Niger.
The U.S. military has two drone bases in Niger, including a $110 million airfield outside the city of Agadez, that would be left behind in an evacuation. Hecker said the US would take “everything back with us” in case of a slow, peaceful withdrawal but would leave behind housing units and other non-sensitive equipment if forced to flee in a dangerous environment.
The American base outside Agadez features a 6,200-foot runway for MQ-9 Reaper drones as well as manned aircraft. At least one other base is shared with a civilian airport, Hecker said. The US has three drone bases in Niger, one of them operated by the CIA.