The African nation shredded a military agreement with Washington last month A Boeing C-17 Globemaster III takes off from Niger Air Base 201 near Agadez, Niger, June 19, 2021 © Wikipedia

The US is planning “an orderly and responsible withdrawal” of its forces from Niger, a State Department official said on Friday. Niger’s military government has made it clear that the 1,000 American troops stationed there are an unwelcome presence.

At a meeting in Washington on Friday, US Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell and Nigerien Prime Minister Ali Lamine Zeine committed “to initiate conversations in Niamey to begin planning an orderly and responsible withdrawal of US troops from Niger,” the official said in a statement to multiple US news outlets.

An American delegation will head to the Nigerien capital in the coming days to arrange the withdrawal, the official added.

Most of the roughly 1,000 American troops deployed in the landlocked western African country are stationed at Niger Air Base 201, a $100 million facility constructed in 2016. American forces have used the base to launch drone operations across the entire Sahel region, but the facility has sat idle since a group of military officers deposed President Mohamed Bazoum’s Western-backed government last year.

West African nation stages protests against US military presence West African nation stages protests against US military presence

Niger’s new government began reviewing military agreements with France and the US, which had been conducting anti-jihadist operations in the Sahel since 2013. These operations were seen across the region as ineffective, and France – Niger’s former colonial ruler – was ordered to remove its troops by the end of last year.

The US responded to the coup by suspending development aid to Niger, but American officials initially expressed hope that US forces could remain in the country. However, the White House insisted on a return to civilian rule in Niamey, and in March, the Nigerien government suspended its military cooperation agreement with Washington.

At a protest in Niamey last weekend, government officials joined thousands of demonstrators in calling for the US to finally pull its forces out of the country. The Synergy of Nigerien Civil Society Organizations, which organized the protests, claimed that an “exponential number” of civilians and Nigerien soldiers had been killed by the “imported mercantile terrorism force” over the last decade.

With the US and France out of favor, Niger has turned to Russia for its security needs. The country’s transitional leader, Abdourahamane Tchiani, spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin last month to discuss anti-terrorism cooperation in the Sahel region. Several weeks later, Russian military instructors landed in Niamey with a planeload of equipment, local media reported.

The US has “expressed concerns” over Niger’s deepening relations with Russia, and over an alleged uranium deal between Niger and Iran, the Pentagon said in a statement last month. However, Niger is not the only Sahel state to strengthen its ties with Moscow in recent years. Mali and Burkina Faso, both of which saw their Western-backed governments overthrown in 2021 and 2022 respectively, have expelled French forces and reached out to Russia for new security and trade deals.