Monday, April 15, 2024

Niger suspends military cooperation with US: Spokesman | Politics News

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The suspension follows an earlier move that has seen thousands of French soldiers exit the West African nation.

Niger has suspended its military agreement with the United States “with immediate effect”, according to the ruling military spokesman Colonel Amadou Abdramane, in a blow to US security interests in the region.

The pact allowed US military personnel and civilian defence staff to operate from Niger, which plays a central role in the US military’s operations in Africa’s Sahel region and is home to a major airbase.

The decision, announced on Saturday, came after senior US officials – led by Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Molly Phee and US Africa Command head General Michael Langley – visited the West African country earlier this week to discuss democratic transition.

Speaking on local television, Abdramane said the US delegation did not follow diplomatic protocol, and that Niger was not informed about the composition of the delegation, the date of its arrival or the agenda.

“Niger regrets the intention of the American delegation to deny the sovereign Nigerien people the right to choose their partners and types of partnerships capable of truly helping them fight against terrorism,” Abdramane said.

The US military had some 650 personnel working in Niger in December, according to a White House report to Congress. The US military operates a major airbase in the Niger city of Agadez, some 920km (572 miles) from the capital of Niamey, using it for manned and unmanned surveillance flights and other operations.

A drone base known as Air Base 201 near Agadez was built at a cost of more than $100m. Since 2018 the base has been used to target ISIL (ISIS) fighters and Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM), an al-Qaeda affiliate, in the Sahel region.

‘A huge blow to the US’

Reporting from Washington, DC, Al Jazeera correspondent Shihab Rattansi said the move is “a huge blow to the US”.

“Niger is the centre of US operations in west and north Africa, notably at its Air Base 201, the most expensive construction project ever undertaken by the US government. It’s there for war on terror operations but it’s really there also for great power projection against countries like Russia and China.”

Last October, Washington officially designated the military takeover as a coup. But in December, the top US envoy for Africa, Phee, said the US was willing to restore aid and security ties if Niger met certain conditions.

The military said the delegation had accused Niger of partnering with Russia and Iran on “secret” deals, which the government denies. Officials also said the US had “threatened” action against Niger if the Niamey fails to cut ties with both countries.

The military government “forcefully denounces the condescending attitude accompanied by the threat of retaliation from the head of the American delegation towards the Nigerien government and people”, spokesman Abdramane added.

A US official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to the Reuters news agency, said the officials had “frank discussions” in Niamey earlier this week about the trajectory of Niger’s ruling military council – known by its French initials CNSP.

“We are in touch with the CNSP and will provide further updates as warranted,” the official added.

Niger has been under military rule since July 2023 when an elite guard force led by General Abdourahamane Tchiani detained President Mohamed Bazoum and declared Tchiani ruler.

Like the military rulers in neighbouring Mali and Burkina Faso, Niger has also kicked out French and other European forces. Both Mali and Burkina Faso have turned to Russia for support.

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