Niger ordered US troops to leave after Biden officials warned about ties to Russia, Iran: Pentagon

Niger is pulling its military cooperation deal with the United States and ordering some 1,000 American military personnel to leave the country, a startling development that comes after U.S. officials last week traveled to the capital of Niamey to “raise a number of concerns” about Niger growing closer to Russia and Iran, the Pentagon said Monday.

The ruling military junta Saturday revoked a major accord known as the status of forces agreement, which allows U.S. forces in Niger. Biden administration officials are aware of this and are “working through diplomatic channels to seek clarification,” Pentagon deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh told reporters.

But just last week, a delegation from Washington that included Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Molly Phee, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Celeste Wallander and U.S. Africa Command head Gen. Michael Langley met with officials with Niger’s National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland.

“The U.S. delegation was there to raise a number of concerns. … We were troubled on the path that Niger is on. And so these were direct and frank conversations to have those in person, to talk about our concerns and to also hear theirs,” Singh said.

Pressed on what the U.S. issues were, Singh said officials “expressed concern over Niger’s potential relationships with Russia and Iran.”

The Biden administration officials also raised alarms over whether Niger was close to an agreement to give Iran access to its uranium reserves, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The future of a U.S. military presence in Niger has been in question since a military junta in late July put the country’s president on house arrest and took control of the government.

The State Department, which did not officially declare the takeover a coup until October, cut back on U.S. aid in the country but still allowed humanitarian assistance. Washington also paused security operations in Niger, where U.S. forces largely help with counterterrorism efforts in the region against an Islamist insurgency.

But following a recent trend by countries in Africa’s western Sahel region, Niger has appeared to turn to Russia as a partner over Western nations.

“The American presence in the territory of the Republic of Niger is illegal,” Niger’s military spokesman Col. Amadou Abdramane said on national television, as reported by The New York Times. He also said the presence of American troops “violates all the constitutional and democratic rules, which would require the sovereign people — notably through its elected officials — to be consulted on the installation of a foreign army on its territory.”

The development is a major setback for U.S. efforts in the Sahel, where just six years ago it opened a $110 million base in northern Niger used to fly surveillance drones.

Niger’s declared ousting of U.S. troops also follows France’s withdrawal of its forces from the country last year.

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