Niamey – The United States said on Monday it will “evaluate” its next steps on the crisis in Niger after France announced a full troop withdrawal as demanded by the nation’s military coup leaders.
France fields 1,500 soldiers in Niger as part of an anti-jihadist deployment in the Sahel region and the United States 1,100 military personnel.
“While we give diplomacy a chance, we will also continue to evaluate any future steps that would prioritise both our diplomatic and security goals,” US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters in Nairobi.
He stressed Washington had “not made any significant change to our force postures and… we really want to see a diplomatic solution, a peaceful end” to the crisis.
French President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday announced that France would withdraw its ambassador from Niger shortly, with French troops leaving by year’s end.
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The decision came two months after the July 26 coup ousted pro-Paris President Mohamed Bazoum.
Macron added that military cooperation was “over” and French troops would withdraw in “the months and weeks to come” with a full pullout “by the end of the year”.
The Pentagon had announced on September 7 that some US soldiers were being transferred as a precaution from a base in the capital Niamey to an air base to the north in the Agadez region.
“We’ll do an assessment of what it means for France to… have its troops withdraw from Niger, but right now, we’re just focused on continuing that move,” said Sabrina Singh, a Pentagon spokesperson.
The United States said on September 18 it was resuming surveillance flights over Niger which had been halted by the coup, with other operations on hold.
Tens of thousands had taken to the streets of Niamey in support of the coup leaders and the demand for the French ambassador and the troops to leave, but Niamey remained calm on Monday after Macron’s announcement.
Pan-Africanist militant Kemi Seba, a Franco-Beninois, arrived in Niamey on Monday and spoke out against the French “arrogance”.
“The people of Niger asked for the French army to leave as soon a possible,” he said.
“Macron in his full colonial arrogance says the French army will leave by the end of the year as if it was for him to decide when the colonialist should pack his bags.”
On the streets of the capital several Nigeriens hailed the French departure.
“The French military has to go immediately because really we don’t need them,” Marzouk Doulla told AFP in the Yantala area, near the embassy.
“They say they are helping us, we don’t seen any change.”
Another local, Abdoulkari Hassane Maikano, agreed.
“It’s a long time since France brought its army here to Niger, but they have not been able to wipe out terrorism,” he noted.
The military regime welcomed the pullout saying, “This Sunday, we celebrate a new step towards the sovereignty of Niger.”
“This is a historic moment, which speaks to the determination and will of the Nigerien people,” it said in a statement read out on national television.
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