Russian Troops Deployed to Niger Airbase Amid US Withdrawal Negotiations

FILE PHOTO: Nigeriens gather in a street to protest against the U.S. military presence, in Niamey, Niger April 13, 2024. REUTERS/Mahamadou Hamidou/File Photo

According to top US officials, Russian troops have been sent to an airbase in Niger where American troops are stationed. This development is perceived as a tactic to increase pressure on the US as it negotiates the withdrawal of its forces from Niger, following an expulsion order issued by the country’s military junta.

The US has been operating two drone bases in Niger, with the aim of combating Islamic insurgents in the region. However, the situation has been complicated by last year’s coup in Niger, which the US strongly condemned. In response, the junta leaders have sought assistance from Russia.

Niger, located in Africa’s Sahel region, is considered the new global epicenter of the Islamic State group, making it a focal point for counterterrorism efforts. The presence of Russian troops adds a new dimension to the geopolitical dynamics in the region..

Niger has served as a key hub for US operations aimed at monitoring jihadist activity in the region.

Reports indicate that Russian military trainers have been deployed to Airbase 101 at Niger’s international airport in Niamey. They are reportedly stationed near a contingent of US troops. According to officials in Niger, approximately 60 Russian troops are currently in the country.

Tensions between the US and Russia have heightened significantly following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. The US has been leading efforts to provide military support to Ukraine in response to the invasion.

Despite these tensions, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has downplayed concerns about any direct risk to American troops resulting from the presence of Russian forces in Niger.

“The Russians are stationed in a separate compound without access to US forces or our equipment,” stated Mr. Austin during a press briefing in Honolulu, Hawaii.

“My primary concern is always the safety and security of our troops… At this moment, I don’t perceive any significant issues regarding our force protection,” added the defense secretary.

The majority of US troops in Niger are reportedly stationed at a drone base in Agadez, located approximately 750 kilometers (460 miles) northeast of Niamey.

The exact number of American troops remaining at Airbase 101 remains unclear.

In March, Niger issued an order for all US troops to depart from the country. Colonel Amadou Abdramane, a military spokesperson, accused the US of objecting to Niger’s choice of allies.

Gen. Michael Langley, head of the US Africa Command, emphasized to the BBC the importance of continued engagement with Niger and Chad.

He highlighted violent extremist organizations as the primary threat to stability in Africa.

The withdrawal of dozens of troops from Chad occurred on Wednesday, prompted by concerns raised by the country’s military leaders ahead of the May 6 elections.

In recent times, several military-led countries in the Sahel region have bolstered their relations with Russia while diminishing ties with France, their former colonial power. This shift comes as they grapple with combating Islamist insurgency in the region.

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