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US Troops to Leave Niger by September  05/20 06:09


   WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. troops ordered out of Niger by the West African 
country's ruling junta will complete their withdrawal by the middle of 
September, the Pentagon and Nigerien defense officials said Sunday.

   The timeline was the product of four days of talks between the countries' 
defense officials in the capital city of Niamey, according to a joint statement.

   Niger's decision to kick out American forces dealt a blow to U.S. military 
operations in the Sahel, a vast region south of the Sahara desert where groups 
linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group operate.

   U.S. troops and some gear already have begun leaving the country, a senior 
military official and a senior defense official who briefed reporters on a call 
Sunday said. The plan is to remove all lethal, hazardous or classified 
equipment before the last U.S. troops depart, but items that are determined to 
be too expensive to fly out could be left for the Nigerien military to use 
instead, the officials said.

   The U.S. also will leave behind infrastructure it has built over the years 
to support the approximately 1,000 troops who have been based there to conduct 
counterterrorism missions, the officials said. Fewer than 1,000 U.S. troops are 
still in Niger, mostly on an airbase near Agadez, some 920 kilometers (550 
miles) away from the capital.

   The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive 
details of the withdrawal.

   The officials called Niger an "anchor" in U.S. counterrorism efforts over 
the last decade, and they are still looking at options on how to fill that gap. 
The officials said that their hope is to continue to work with the Nigerien 
military on counterterrorism work in the future, even if U.S. troops are not 
based there on the ground.

   The rupture in military cooperation followed last July's ouster of the 
country's democratically elected president by mutinous soldiers. A few months 
later, the ruling junta asked French forces to leave and turned to the Russian 
mercenary group Wagner for security assistance.

   The officials said they did not have indications that the Wagner group may 
end up increasing its influence over the Nigerien military in the absence of 
U.S. personnel,

   In October, Washington officially designated the military takeover as a 
coup, which triggered U.S. laws restricting the military support and aid that 
it can provide to Niger.

   Until recently, Washington considered Niger a key partner and ally in a 
region swept by coups in recent years, investing millions of dollars in the 
Agadez base, which has been critical to U.S. counterterrorism operations in the 
Sahel. The United States also has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in 
training Niger's military since it began operations there in 2013.

   The Pentagon has also said the U.S. will relocate most of the approximately 
100 forces it has deployed in neighboring Chad for now. But talks are expected 
to resume next month about revising an agreement that allows U.S. troops to be 
based in Chad.

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